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Investors and banks dropped the chain

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Dusseldorf The end was sealed shortly before the ghost hour. He had decided to “file an application to open insolvency proceedings against insolvency with the Cologne District Court”, said the board of the Vapiano restaurant chain on Wednesday at exactly 11:57 p.m. Whether applications for subsidiaries also have to be made will be examined. Ruth Rigol was appointed as bankruptcy administrator for Vapiano by the Pluta law firm.

This makes it clear that all of the last attempts to rescue the pizza and pasta chain have failed; 55 restaurants in this country alone are likely to remain, even after the current corona-related forced closure. At first, 2000 employees in Germany have no prospects, and the Danish Vapiano company has already filed for bankruptcy.

It is not yet clear how things will go in other countries. But one thing is certain: the once fairytale-like success story, which culminated with the IPO in 2017, came to an abrupt end.

No solution could be found for the “another significant increase in liquidity requirements of an additional 36.7 million euros”, which arose from the consequences of the corona pandemic, the board said. “In particular, no conclusive agreement could be reached with the financing banks and key shareholders on the contributions to the comprehensive financing solution sought,” it said. For this reason, the prospective funding from state corona aid programs could not be applied for.

There is a lot more to this detail in this sober message. If you ask questions in circles that are familiar with the processes, you hear that in the end it was really only about a few million euros that were supposed to have been in question. An insider spoke to the Handelsblatt of four million euros.

The shareholders, Vapiano co-founder Gregor Gerlach, major shareholders Hans-Joachim Sander and his wife, heiress to Wella Gisa Sander, and a consortium of six banks led by HypoVereinsbank (HVB) could not have agreed on their distribution. Another participant did not want to directly confirm the sum of four million euros, but spoke of a manageable single-digit million amount.

This sum would have remained as a necessary financial injection if Vapiano had received government support. And there were very positive signals from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia for this, confirm several insiders. At the beginning of the week, it had been heard from negotiating circles that possible state support was probably the least problem with the rescue attempts.

State of North Rhine-Westphalia would have jumped in

The state of North Rhine-Westphalia should therefore have provided the majority of the required liquidity of 36.7 million euros through NRW.Bank and taken over the previous 47.4 percent stake from Vapiano’s previous shareholder Mayfair. Mayfair, which is backed by the Tchibo heirs Günter and Daniela Herz, had only recently announced that it would sell its shares to a trustee.

Ultimately, there should have been a violent scramble behind the scenes as to which financial resources banks and investors are making available and who is foregoing certain claims. The dissent was enormous, it was said that the interests of six financing banks and the two investors could not be reconciled.

And ultimately, doubts have grown massively that Vapiano will succeed. Nobody dared to dare a “positive continuation forecast” if the restaurants were allowed to reopen after the corona-related forced closings had not yet ended.

Vapiano did not want to comment beyond the ad hoc announcement on request, but again pointed out that there were positive signals “regarding funds from state support programs”. No request has yet been received from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, also from the investors Gerlach and Sander. Mayfair regretted that despite intensive efforts by the various parties, “the current step of filing for bankruptcy has become inevitable”. HVB did not want to comment on request.

It’s a rather abrupt withdrawal by investors and banks. Because only recently, the stricken restaurant chain announced that they had agreed with the shareholders and banks on a new financing immediately before the escalating corona crisis. 10.7 million euros were identified as liquidity requirements. The plans provided for Gerlach and the Sanders and the financing banks to contribute additional capital.

At the same time, banks’ credit conditions should be suspended. Mayfair, on the other hand, who had already contributed 22 million euros in additional capital in the past two years, no longer participated in these financial injections – and announced that it would transfer its shares to a trustee who, after successful restructuring, might sell them or should retransmit.

Then came the corona pandemic with its impact on the business, which, according to a company announcement on March 16, caused additional financing requirements of EUR 13.6 million. However, the amount has not yet taken into account the impact of the massive closings of restaurants that have become necessary to slow the spread of the virus.

“A further increase in liquidity requirements is therefore expected,” the company said only a few days later when it declared bankrupt on March 20. “We do not know exactly where we are currently and how long the crisis will last,” said investor Sander. He was still convinced of the concept.

Zenith already exceeded at the IPO

In order to ward off the imminent bankruptcy registration, Vapiano boss Vanessa Hall simultaneously made an urgent appeal to the federal government to provide loans quickly. “If we do not soon see unbureaucratic and quick help for the companies concerned, the loss of jobs will no longer be an abstract risk, but will inevitably become a reality,” said Hall.

The British came to Vapiano in 2018 and should lead the weakening restaurant chain back on the road to success. In 2005, Vapiano passed the 10 million euro mark for the first time, then expanded with giant strides. At the top, the chain was represented in 33 countries with more than 230 restaurants, the turnover moved towards 300 million euros. And since 2017, the pizza and pasta specialist was listed on the stock exchange.

But when the chain, which had become a cult brand, went onto the trading floor, the descent had long been initiated. There were reports of poor hygiene, problems in dealing with employees. Above all, the criticism of long waiting times and the price-performance ratio in the restaurants and the associated weaker business weighed on Vapiano. After a minimal profit of 1.6 million euros in 2017, the loss was 101 million euros a year later.

At least not directly affected by the bankruptcy are the franchisees who operate 29 restaurants in 25 German cities. They had stressed just over a week ago that they were fully solvent. However, their restaurants, which are supplied by third-party companies and not via Vapiano, are currently also closed due to the state-imposed restrictions on public life.

And what happens next is more than questionable. Because important components of their appearance on the market came from Vapiano: Finally, the restaurants adopted the Vapiano marketing concept and used the brand.

More: At Vapiano, the corona crisis has brought an already shaky business model to collapse

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