Birmingham pub group Mitchells & Butlers today announced a £19.5 million deal to buy 22 Ha Ha Bar & Grill restaurants.
Fleet Street firm M&B is buying the chain from Bay Restaurant Group, but will not keep the brand under plans to convert the Ha Ha sites into All Bar One, Browns restaurants and other existing brands.
However, while it will axe the Ha Ha name, M&B confirmed it planned to take on all retail and operational staff employed in the sites being bought.
Bay Restaurant said the deal will allow it to focus solely on Spanish tapas group La Tasca, following its move in February to offload the Slug & Lettuce business to the Town & City Pub Company.
Ian Payne, chairman of Bay Restaurant, said: “The sale of Ha Ha follows a successful and active auction process, which we launched in April of this year.
“As anticipated, there was significant interest in the Ha Ha brand portfolio and I am delighted to see both the business and all of its employees going to such a good home.”
The Ha Ha sale highlighted the consolidation currently taking place in the casual dining sector. Nando’s also announced today it is snapping up Gourmet Burger Kitchen group Clapham House, while Italian restaurant Carluccio’s is changing hands in a £90.3 million deal with Middle Eastern group Landmark.
Ha Ha employs around 800 people and was launched in 1999. It is based in locations including Bath, Bristol, Norwich, Reading, Cardiff and Portsmouth.
The sites will allow M&B to further concentrate on the food-led market as part of a strategy to move away from pure drinks pubs, which have suffered since the smoking ban and the recession.
M&B, which also owns Toby Carvery, recently announced the sale of more than 300 sites and a £39 million deal to offload the Hollywood Bowl ten-pin bowling business.
M&B shares rose two per cent in early trading after the announcement.