London bakery chain Patisserie Valerie has plans to open up to nine shops in Northern Ireland, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Paul May, the chief executive of parent company Patisserie Holdings, said the firm had already been eyeing up premises in Belfast's Corn Market, which could open within the next year.
Negotiations were taking place over a possible site – and he said the company would then turn its sights to other towns around Northern Ireland.
Mr May said he had visited Northern Ireland "two or three times" in the last 12 months. "Northern Ireland is very much in our expansion plans and we have been looking for quite some time to see if we can go in there.
"We have looked at two or three sites in Belfast in its own right, and then would look to the obvious towns, eventually opening around nine."
He said the company had been pleased with the outcome of its expansion into Scotland, where it now has eight bakeries employing 150 people.
"We think it would do very well in Belfast," he said.
He described its market position as "between coffee shops and casual dining".
Mr May said he had previous experience of expanding a retail chain into Northern Ireland – he is a founder and former director of The Money Shop.
He said he was familiar with Patisserie Mimi, a business set up in High Street in Belfast last year by hospitality business Beannchor. "I think they're a good operation," he said.
He revealed that Patisserie Valerie's biggest sellers were its cake slices at £3.95 each, and 'treat boxes' containing four slices for £10. Its gateaux cost £30 each.
Its eye-catching window displays of cakes were able to draw in customers, he said.
The goods in its eventual Northern Ireland shops would be made here, Mr May said. "It is a labour-orientated business, so we would have a small facility for production underneath our first store."
He said Patisserie Valerie was proud of its heritage, with its first bakery opened by Belgian-born Madame Valerie in London in 1926.
The ambitious expansion programme comes after it unveiled plans to raise £33m through a stock market flotation.
Patisserie Holdings, which also includes the brands Druckers and Philpotts, believes it has significant growth potential, having developed from eight shops in 2006 to 138 today. It will use the proceeds of the proposed share placing to pay down debt, while the listing will enable existing shareholders to secure up to £55m.
Entrepreneur and former Pizza Express chairman Luke Johnson is majority owner of the business after backing a management buy-out in 2006.
He said the rapid progress made in recent years made it an "exciting time" for the company.
What you can expect
to pay for gateaux at Patisserie Valerie