Sandwich chain Pret A Manger has been taken over by private equity firm Bridgepoint in a deal valued at £345m, which will accelerate Pret’s expansion plans in the UK and internationally.

Bridgepoint will buy the entire company, including the 33% stake acquired by McDonald’s in 2001, and will retain a majority stake. Founders and former majority stakeholders Sinclair Beecham and Julian Metcalfe will make a significant reinvestment in the business. They and current senior management will end up with 20% of the company’s equity. Goldman Sachs, advisor to Bridgepoint, will take an undisclosed minority stake.

Founded in 1986, Pret A Manger has 200 shops (175 in the UK, 14 in New York and 11 in Hong Kong) and employs almost 4,000 people. It had sales in the year to September 2007 of £223 million (£194m in 2006).

Pret was put up for sale nearly a year ago, after plans to float the business on the London Stock Exchange were shelved.

Pret plans to open 30 stores this year, seven of which will be in New York. The injection of capital by Bridgepoint will speed up plans to transform a largely UK business into an international operation. Bridgepoint said it plans to open stores in London, the South East, the UK regions and the US, and also to grow in the Far East. The plan is to increase the number of stores by 15% per year.