Dunnes Stores, which is executing a strategic shift to make its stores more upscale and "foodie", wants a slice of the action in the pizza business. It has made an approach to buy Dublin restaurant chain Base Wood Fired Pizza.
Base, run by former lawyer Shane Crilly, operates six high-end pizzerias, mostly around its stronghold of south Dublin, including Ballsbridge, Terenure, Glenageary, Stillorgan, Lucan and on Dublin's northside in Drumcondra.
It is currently co-owned by Mr Crilly and the backers of the Loyola pubs group. They include Brian O'Malley, brother of former Leinster rugby player Eoin O'Malley, and Stephen Cooney, whose father, Garrett Cooney, was a prominent senior counsel who died in January.
Base operates in partnership with Loyola, which owns landmark Dublin venues such as the Lep Inn and the Bath Pub near the Aviva stadium.
A deal between Dunnes and Base has not yet been agreed, it is understood. Mr Crilly declined to comment on the approach by Dunnes, while the grocery chain, following its usual policy, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
If a deal does go ahead, a buyout or some other form of partnership with Base would be seen as consistent with Dunnes's recent strategic shift, overseen by Anne Heffernan, daughter of the Dunnes matriarch Margaret Heffernan.
In recent years as the economy improved, Dunnes has sought to position itself as a purveyor of on-trend Irish food brands.
Dunnes is known to have unsuccessfully bid last year for the Donnybrook Fair chain, which was eventually bought out by SuperValu’s owner, Musgrave, while it also tried to buy the Avoca group.
It kicked off its strategy shift in 2015, when it bought the Café Sol chain of coffee houses. Since then, it has bought the James Whelan chain of butchers, while it also struck a partnership with Sheridan’s Cheesemongers.
Dunnes has added concessions of the food brands in its most recently-updated stores, while it has also continued to operate their pre-existing outlets, where it gains valuable data on food consumer buying habits.