Restaurateur and rapper take on former Domino's Pizza outlets in Russia

MOSCOW (Reuters) -A Russian restaurateur and a pro-Kremlin rapper who together bought Starbucks' business in Russia last year are now taking over the Russian assets of Domino's Pizza, they announced on Wednesday.

Anton Pinskiy and Timati said they would run the restaurants under the barely changed brand Domino Pizza, with the 'i' in Domino replaced by the equivalent Russian letter и.

They said they would retain the franchise's partners, 120 restaurants and more than 2,000 employees in Russia. Pinskiy told reporters the pair had already invested hundreds of millions of roubles in the business.

Timati, whose real name is Timur Yunusov, is a rapper-turned businessman who already owns a big burger chain called Black Star. He has a long track record of support for the Kremlin, appearing with another performer, Sasha Chest, in a 2015 song with the lyric "My best friend is President Putin".

The announcement came nine days after DP Eurasia, the operator of the Domino's Pizza brand in Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia, said it would file for bankruptcy for its Russian business after giving up attempts to sell it.

On Wednesday a DP Eurasia spokesperson said the company had no further comment beyond confirming that the bankruptcy petition had been filed and no sale process had occurred.

Western companies that pulled out of Russia when it sent its army into Ukraine last year have in many cases had to write off the value of their business there or sell their operations at huge discounts.

Russia passed a decree in April allowing the state to take over the assets of companies from "unfriendly" countries in retaliation for foreign moves against Russian companies.

In July, the government seized control of the Russian subsidiaries of French yoghurt maker Danone and Danish brewer Carlsberg. Dutch brewer Heineken said last week it had sold its Russian operations for a symbolic one euro.

The shakeout has led to several high-profile rebrandings, with Lego stores becoming "World of Cubes", Krispy Kreme morphing into "Krunchy Dream", and McDonald's restaurants being relaunched as "Vkusno & tochka", or "Tasty and that's it".

After the Starbucks deal, Pinskiy and Timati unveiled their new brand, Stars Coffee, in August 2022. Pinskiy later said he paid around 500 million roubles ($6 million) for the assets.

He said he had also participated in the tender to buy McDonald's former restaurants in Russia and had even signed a preliminary contract before ultimately losing out to businessman and McDonald's franchisee Alexander Govor.

(Reporting by Olga Popova, writing by Mark Trevelyan, editing by Nick Macfie and Stephen Coates)