Jamie Oliver's global restaurant empire is in trouble

GP Images/WireImageJamie Oliver visits Jamie’s Italian Canada at Yorkdale Shopping Centre on October 5, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.
  • Jamie’s Italian in the UK is in deep financial trouble, with debts of $AU126 million. It is being restructured.
  • Founder Jamie Oliver, 42, rose to fame in the 1990s BBC TV series The Naked Chef.
  • The British chef turned his fame into a massive global network of restaurants, including six Jamie’s Italian restaurants in Australia.
  • One of Oliver’s flagship steakhouse restaurants in London has closed after falling into administration this week.

When Jamie Oliver took control his Australian outposts a little over 12 months ago, buying his six Jamie’s Italian restaurants from the receivers of the failed Keystone Group, the British celebrity chef said it was a story with “a really happy ending”.

The Naked Chef was a white knight who rode into town on Budget night in 2017 with a “righty-o then!” to launch new menus and spread the Oliver gospel.

But less than 12 months down the track, the global empire bearing his name is in major financial trouble, with parts collapsing into administration, while Jamie’s Italian branch is closing outlets and trying to cut costs in a bid to stem heavy losses.

Oliver’s posh London steakhouse, Barbecoa in Piccadilly, slid into administration this week with the loss of 80 jobs. Some last-minute maneuvering saw Oliver save the Barbecoa St Paul’s site, buying it from administration for an undisclosed sum. The Oliver spin-off originally launched in 2011, but in 2016, the last time financial figures were released, lost £473,758 ($AU834,000)

The chef’s multi-pronged private business empire sprouted a new head less than a month ago: One New Change Ltd, which bought the flagship restaurant.

“We can confirm that Barby Limited has been placed into administration. One New Change Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group, has purchased the assets and lease of Barbecoa St Paul’s and will be trading as normal,” Oliver’s company said in a statement to The Guardian.

Meanwhile, the Jamie’s Italian chain is shrinking from around 60 outlets, with around a third – 12 – of its British outlets scheduled to close, with the loss of 450 jobs, while the chef was forced to personally tip £3 million ($AU5.3m) into the business late last year, with another £6.5 million ($AU11.5m) loaned from another part of the empire. A year ago, six of 42 Jamie’s Italian restaurants the UK closed, while his Union Jacks pizza shut down last March after six years in business.

Oliver’s personal fortune, believed to be around £150 million ($AU265m) is not at risk from any business failures.

Last week, the Sun on Sunday reported that the Jamie’s Italian business was a sea of red ink, with debts of £71.5 million ($AU126m), while Oliver had “begged landlords of his underperforming restaurants to cut rents in an attempt to stop the chain going bust”.

Court documents revealed Jamie’s Italian Ltd owes £30.2m to HSBC in overdrafts and loans, while £41.3m was owed creditors such as the taxman, landlords and suppliers along with £2.2m owed to staff.

The company’s most recent financials revealed pre-tax loss of £9.9 million ($AU17.5m) on revenue of £112 million in 2016. Sales were down 3%.

The Sun said the legal papers blamed under-investment, unsuitable new locations and high costs for the losses, and creditors voted at a meeting earlier this month to cut rents at some of the UK sites by up to 30%.

The business entered into a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) believing it can trade out of its troubles.

A company spokesman told the Sun on Sunday that: “The CVA approval ensures Jamie’s Italian’s great staff and suppliers can all get paid and has saved 1,800 jobs.”

“We feel confident this newly shaped business will provide growth and profitability,” they said.

When the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group Australia began trading, Ben Shaughnessy, who’d spent seven years at The Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group UK, moved to Sydney as managing director.

Jamie’s Italian launched in Sydney’s CBD six years ago and subsequently opened in Canberra, Parramatta in western Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.

They’re said to be among the brand’s best global performers. Business Insider has asked Shaughnessy for comment on the chef’s trouble in Britain and we’ll let you know when we hear back.

Oliver has 25 international restaurants, including Jamie’s Italians on Royal Caribbean cruise ships.

But the TV chef’s personal brand, which is so intimately linked to his outlets, appears to have been on the wane in recent years.

Last October, his self-titled food magazine closed after 10 years, with circulation nearly halving in the last eight years. Oliver sold the publishing rights to Hearst in 2016.

But Oliver’s social enterprise restaurant business, Fifteen, which gives hospitality training and jobs to young unemployed people, and is owned by the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, was a star performed with a pretax profit of £308,000 on revenues of £2.6 million.

And his publishing arm, Jamie Oliver Ltd, made a pre-tax profit of £3.9 million on turnover of £15.3 million in 2016.

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