Wahaca, the Mexican-themed restaurant chain co-founded by MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers, has become the latest casual dining group to draft in advisers to review its finances amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sky News has learnt that Wahaca is working with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to advise it as it awaits government guidance on a reopening timetable for the hospitality sector.
Sources said the company, which trades from 25 restaurants and employs about 1000 people, would examine a number of financing options in the coming weeks.
A spokesman insisted that, contrary to suggestions in the industry, a Company Voluntary Arrangement – a form of insolvency which allows struggling businesses to reduce their debts to creditors – was not being considered.
Other alternatives are likely to involve seeking a new investor or another form of restructuring, although an outright sale is not understood to be a priority.
Last weekend, Ms Miers, who won the inaugural MasterChef in 2005, warned that the crisis engulfing Britain’s restaurant sector could threaten two million jobs.
“Our industry has been hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis, and it will be the last to recover,” she told The Mail On Sunday.
“If nothing is done, we are talking about 50% of these businesses going under, and two million jobs will be lost.
“The impact of all those millions of people losing their jobs would be catastrophic for human lives, and equally catastrophic for the economy.”
Ms Miers co-founded loss-making Wahaca soon after winning the BBC cookery series, opening its first restaurant in London’s Covent Garden.
The chain’s other founder was Mark Selby, who continues to run the business.
Since the coronavirus pandemic reached Britain, a number of casual dining chains have been plunged into crisis.
Carluccio’s collapsed into administration last month, putting 2000 jobs at risk.
Sources say that a deadline for final bids for the chain expired on Wednesday evening, with a decision likely about any transaction from the administrator, FRP Advisory, in the coming days.
Chiquito’s, which is owned by The Restaurant Group, has also been forced into insolvency proceedings, while burger chain Byron has hired KPMG to advise it.
Sky News revealed earlier this week that Le Pain Quotidien was on the brink of administration, with efforts to secure a buyer potentially resulting in a pre-pack sale.
On Thursday, UK Hospitality, the industry association, urged the government to commit to a phased opening of the industry.
Kate Nicholls, its chief executive, said: “With social distancing measures still in place, reopening the hospitality sector without a plan would be catastrophic.
“The hospitality sector was one of the first hit by the crisis and the hardest hit in terms of lost revenue. It will also be one of the last to fully emerge from the lockdown.
“An extended period of social distancing will mean that many hospitality businesses will not be able to operate fully, and many will not be able to open at all.”