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Holders of Pizza Meter franchises could buy out the pizza chain, which filed for court protection from its creditors Thursday after amassing debts of NIS 16 million. The franchisees gathered yesterday to discuss their next steps after the Pizza Meter chain, which owns four branches outright, apart from a further 20 outlets run as franchises, ran into financial trouble.

Tel Aviv Court Judge Varda Alshech turned down Pizza Meter's request for court protection and scheduled a hearing for Wednesday. Meanwhile, the franchise holders' spokesman, Adani Dagan, said that they were examining all options, but were adamant about retaining their legal rights.

"Maybe we'll buy the chain," Dagan said, "but if someone comes and says `I want the chain, wipe out all the debts,' then we also want to have our say. Why shouldn't the court give us the chain?"

The franchise holders also met with the suppliers to ensure that it was business as usual at the pizza branches yesterday. However, the suppliers are owed some NIS 8.5 million from Pizza Meter - primarily Angel bakeries, Gad dairies and the Central Bottling Company (Coca-Cola Israel). Some of the suppliers announced yesterday that they would be cutting their credit to Pizza Meter, while others said they would now only be accepting cash.

Bernado Belajovich, 25-percent owner of Pizza Meter, said that the chain was in negotiations with several parties who were interested in buying it. The chain also submitted a request to the court to approve a deal with businessman Amir Wolf, former international division and business-development manager at Home Center. According to the proposed deal, Wolf would manage the chain for two months while examining the possibility of buying it. Alshech rejected the proposal and remarked that she doubted whether it was an appropriate arrangement.