Jamie Oliver has vowed to fight on to save his ailing empire, after revelations of a $126 million debt and the forced closure of several of his high-profile restaurants.
The celebrity chef’s dream of creating a chain of affordable neighbourhood Italian restaurants has soured, with his Jamie’s Italian group forced to close 12 of its restaurants in the UK and restructure the rents on several other non-profitable eateries.
The news comes after reports of court documents that show Jamie’s Italian Limited to have a total debt of £71.5 million ($126 million).
That figure includes £30.2 million ($53 million) in liabilities – overdrafts and – to HSBC bank, £41.3 million ($72.6 million) in tax, rents and bills to creditors and about £2.2 million ($3.9 million) in staff wages.
But a spokeswoman for Oliver told The New Daily the debt is nothing out of the ordinary for an enterprise of this scale, all staff will be paid and that the Jamie Oliver brand will claw its way back from recent setbacks.
“We are working hard to ensure that our estate is fit for the current trading environment and we feel confident that this newly shaped business will provide strong opportunities for growth and profitability,” spokeswoman Tamsyn Zietsman told TND.
We have a strong brand and are focused on continuing to deliver the levels of service, taste and the experience our loyal customers deserve.”
But several commentators in the UK claim it was precisely the chain’s service, taste and experience which led to its current predicament, with bad customer reviews and accusations of dysfunctional workplaces.
The latest closures follow the demise of six other Jamie’s Italian restaurants exactly one year ago, after the business lost £5.9 million ($10.38 million) in the 2016 calendar year.
Those losses prompted the parent company, Jamie Oliver Holdings, to tip in £6.5 million ($11.44 million) as a bailout loan to “support it through the tough trading environment”.
Oliver, 42, at the time blamed the Brexit-induced fall in the British pound against the euro for the fall in profits, which hit many of his imported ingredients.
“As every restaurant owner knows, this is a tough market and post-Brexit the pressures and unknowns have made it even harder,” Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group head Simon Blagden told the Guardian newspaper.
The latest round of 12 closures will take the number of Jamie’s Italian restaurants in the UK from 37 to 25, with several others receiving rental deductions ranging from 30 per cent to 75 per cent. The closures will also result in the loss of 450 jobs.
Ms Zietsman noted none of Jamie’s Italian’s 28 international restaurants, including the six in Australia, are affected by the closures.
Oliver’s global food empire comprises 52 restaurants in 25 countries as diverse as Iceland and Indonesia, across four brands – Jamie’s Italian, Jamie’s Deli, Jamie’s Pizzeria and Jamie’s Diner. Jamie’s Italian makes up the lion’s share with 39 dotted around the world.
Initial reports said the losses at Jamie’s Italian would not affect Oliver’s Fifteen restaurants in Amsterdam, London and Cornwall, nor his two Barbecoa US-style barbecue and steak restaurants in London. But UK media have since reported that Oliver may also move to close those to further prop up the group.
Ms Zietsman confirmed that “as part of our ongoing and comprehensive review of the Restaurant Group and its operations, we have instructed a firm of Real estate experts to ascertain the potential value and market suitability of two of our sites”.
Despite the recent setbacks, Oliver’s net worth is still estimated to be an astonishing £240 million ($425 million). He currently lives with wife Jools, 43, and their five children in a £10 million ($17.7 million) home in London’s Hamstead Heath and also owns a country house where he grew up in Essex.
But Oliver is no stranger to commercial failure having opened and shut: Union Jacks, a chain serving up British classics; Recipease, a cookery school-shop-café set-up; and JME artisan biscuits, sauces and jams.