O'Briens founder Brody Sweeney

A group of the O'Briens Sandwich Bar franchisees may end up battling it out to own the business with the company behind Abrakebra and the Bagel Factory.

This weekend a group consisting of 53 of the 80 Irish stores is looking at buying the brand, trade marks and continuing the business as a form of co-op sandwich outlet under the O'Briens brandname.

Meanwhile, Abrakebabra Investments (AI) has said it is still interested in the buying the company. It runs the Abrakebabra fast food chain and the Bagel Factory.

Graeme Beere of AI would still look at taking on O'Briens as a going concern. "I've admired the brand for years," he said. "We'll be considering how to proceed."

"We don't support any outside investment in the company," said one of the pro­spective buyer franchisees.

"Taking on the trademark and continuing on in a loose co-op arrangement is being looked at."

The group of 31 franchisees has hired a solicitor to advise it on such a transacton and also on what its obligations are to the existing business, if any.

They argue they do not owe O'Briens any monies and previously agreed franchise agreements are no longer valid. Many stopped paying royalties, fees and rents to O'Briens some months ago.

Representatives of the group of 31 franchisees who have 53 of the 80 Irish outlets between them met with liquidator Paul McCann and, separately, with their solicitor Val Stone of Stone Solicitors last Thursday to discuss future options.

They have around 500 employees between them.

AI decided not to buy the company out of examinership last week when the High Court rejected moves by O'Briens to repudiate the burden head leases it holds on outlets.

"We would need a clean run in regard to the leases in order to buy," said Beere.