The rise and fall of Brand Jamie: How £200m empire went bust

The rise and fall of Brand Jamie: How £200m empire went bust

Jamie’s recipe for disaster: Experts reveal faults that led to collapse of chef’s sprawling restaurant empire

  • Critics claim Oliver’s restaurants were over-priced for their ‘mid-range- offering
  • But his recipe books still sold millions and cooking shows continued to do well
  • With rise of food delivery apps and online reviews three chains failed to survive
  • Jamie’s Italian, Union Jacks and Barbecoa have all gone into administration  

Pictured: Jamie Oliver on The Naked Chef during its second series in 2000 

Jamie Oliver’s food empire today came crashing down around him as the celebrity chef announced his restaurant brand had spiralled into administration.

Food critics and industry experts claim the overpriced, mid-range meals on offer at his three High Street restaurants were a recipe for disaster. 

While Oliver’s recipe books flew off the shelves in their millions and his TV shows continued to rake in viewers, his own food outlets failed to meet the same standards. 

Restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin said she would have to be ‘paid’ to go back to Jamie’s Italian in London’s Westfield.

Market analyst Fiona Cincotta claimed the menu was ‘too expensive for mid-range dining and not high-end enough to compete at the more expensive end of the market’. 

Oliver, who first broke the mainstream as the cheeky chappy from Essex on his first TV show The Naked chef at 23, blamed Brexit for the collapse. 

But his restaurants, which also include Union Jacks and Barbecoa, have teetered on the edge of administration for more than a year with millions of pounds in debt.  

Experts claim the Jamie brand was being used as an excused to hike up prices, without any increases in food quality.  

Poor online reviews are also believed to have contributed to the worsening reputation of Jamie’s Italian as food delivery apps such as Uber Eats have conquered the market, leaving the chef unable to save his struggling brand.

TripAdvisor reviewers recently branded his Covent Garden branch as ‘shocking’, ‘nothing special’ and pricey in recent months. 

Oliver is pictured outside Jamie’s Italian, which closed 22 of its shops without notice today 

His restaurants now owe £71.5million with 1,000 workers set to lose their jobs. 

Josh Singh, 24, who works at Jamie’s Italian at the Bullring in Birmingham said: ‘In the early years it was a destination restaurant but I think over time the message got lost. The company started giving things away and turned into your average high street restaurant instead of a celebrity restaurant.

‘They opened restaurants all over the place and in places where you wouldn’t expect celebrity restaurants to be like villages and very small towns.’ 

An anonymous member of staff added: ‘It was getting too commercial and I felt under pressure to get customers seated and ordered and then out too quickly.

‘On busy nights it felt like a conveyor belt. Why pay £100 plus for a meal when you feel under pressure to eat it quickly? You might as well go to McDonalds.’

Gareth Ogden, from chartered accountants Haysmacintyre, said: ‘Sky high rents, particularly at its premium sites, combined with soaring business rates have been at the heart of Jamie Oliver’s recent woes. 

Fifteen Barbecoa restaurants have also closed as Jamie Oliver’s brand went into administration today 

‘The rescue plan put in place in 2017 appears to have now crashed on the rocks of over-supply in the casual dining market and consumer uncertainty. 

‘In a sector awash with excess supply, particularly in the Italian market, maintaining quality, reliability and point of difference is imperative for survival. 

‘Jamie’s Italian, the group’s largest brand, is perhaps guilty of over-expansion and has lost the passion and zeal of its founder which was its USP when originally brought to market.’ 

Jamie’s Italian is far from the only victim of the High Street bloodbath, with dozens of food brands admitting defeat in the last two years.

Prezzo, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Patisserie Valerie are among those who have struggled to survive.     

Simon Mydlowski, an expert in the hospitality industry, said Jamie’s failed to keep up with trends in the sector. 

This sign appeared in the window of the Jamie’s Italian in Victoria, central London this morning

Senior market analyst Fiona Cincotta from Cityindex, added: ‘The restaurant chain, which piggybacked on the fame of Naked Chef Jamie Oliver, has been struggling for years to keep the business model going in which the pasta dishes – most of Jamie’s Italian offering – were too expensive for mid-range dinning and not high end enough to compete in the more expensive end of the market. 

‘Higher rent, rising food prices, uncertainty over Brexit and competition from smaller, more nimble outfits, have been eroding the company’s earnings over the last few years.  

‘Although nobody in the company blamed Brexit for the situation it is telling that the Jamie Oliver franchise is alive and well abroad, operating 25 restaurants in other countries including Ireland. 

‘The demise doesn’t leave much to celebrate, only room for questions about how it could have been done better.’    

The self-made chef’s fall from grace comes after he refused to let severe dyslexia stand in his way of success.

Born to pub owners Trevor and Sally Oliver in Clavering, Essex, he started out cooking in the kitchen with his parents and sister. 

Josh Singh started work at the company as door staff in 2013 and has worked his way up the ladder to become manager. He slammed the closures today 

After leaving school, he went on to attend Westminster Technical College, earning a qualification in home economics, before getting a job as a pastry chef at the London restaurant of Italian cook Antonio Carluccio.

His shot at stardom came when a visiting TV crew spotted him working at the River Cafe in Hammersmith, West London, in 1997. 

Two years later he hit TV screens aged 23 on The Naked Chef, establishing his reputation as a cheeky, laid-back cook from Essex.

The BBC series was praised at the time for inspiring men to cook. It first aired on April 14th in 1999 and ran for three series and including Christmas specials. 

Jamie met his wife, Juliette — known as Jools — at college in 1993 when the pair were just 18.

They married in Essex in June 2000, with a low-key reception in Jamie’s parents’ garden, to which the chef wore a pale blue Paul Smith suit and snakeskin brogues.

Jools worked as a waitress before becoming a TV assistant, model and, briefly, her husband’s PA.

The couple have five children – Poppy Honey Rosie, 17; Daisy Boo Pamela, 15; Petal Blossom Rainbow, 10; Buddy Bear Maurice, eight; and River Rocket Blue Dallas, two. 

Oliver tweeted: ‘I’m devastated that our much-loved UK restaurants have gone into administration. I am deeply saddened by this outcome and would like to thank all of the people who have put their hearts and souls into this business over the years.’

He went on to present more than 25 cooking series, spearheading a campaign for improved nutrition in school meals. 

Jamie famously waged war on Turkey Twizzlers in 2005, when he visited Westminster to speak with politicians about his healthy school dinners campaign.  

The chef also released a host of accessible cookery books, including  ‘Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals’ and ‘Everyday Super Food’. In 2010, ‘How to Cook (Part One)’ became the biggest selling cookbook of all time. 

Timeline: How Jamie Oliver’s chains plunged into debt

2008: Jamie’s Italian opened its first restaurant in 2008.

2015: Jamie At Home, which contracted agents to sell his cookware range at parties, ceased trading after racking up losses. The company began in 2009, as part of the Jamie Oliver organisation, before being licensed to another firm in 2013, but shut up shop in 2015.

2017: Jamie’s businesses lost £20m, forcing him to shut 18 of his Italian restaurants – leading to the loss of 600 jobs.

Chain was struggling with debts of £71.5m and teetered on the edge of bankruptcy before the chef injected his savings into the business. 

The firm also took out £37m in loans from HSBC and other companies. 

In 2017 he closed the last of his four his Union Jack Piazzas, in London’s Covent Garden. 

2018: Jamie’s Italian shuttered 12 of its 37 sites, with the latter tranche executed through a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA).

He also came under fire for failing to pay suppliers after his upmarket steak restaurant Barbecoa crashed into administration, leading to the closure of its Piccadilly branch.  

The restaurant in St Paul’s continued to trade and was bought out by a new company set up by Oliver, who was no longer legally liable for the debts. 

2019: All but three of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants close after the business called in administrators, with 1,000 staff facing redundancy. 

Licensing his name for use on items such as Hotpoint ovens and Tefal pans has made him £7.3million before tax in 2016 alone. Cooking and recipe books have raked in £5.4million before tax in the same year. 

He opened his first Jamie’s Italian in Oxford in 2008, growing it to more than 60 restaurants worldwide. 

In 2017 the restaurant chain lost almost £20million and was forced to close several of its branches.

It came close to bankruptcy last year before the chef injected £12.7million of his savings into the business.  

That year he closed the last of his Union Jacks eateries and scrapped his magazine Jamie, which had been in print for almost 10 years. The father-of-five went on to describe that year as the worst of his life.  

By 2018, Jamie’s Italian was struggling with debts of £71.5million. More than 600 people lost their jobs earlier this year the chain said it would close 12 sites.   

Despite his financial woes, Jamie recently splashed out £6 million on a 16th century Essex mansion, in a 70-acre estate, complete with ghost. 

He’s reportedly planning to convert outhouses into a mega-kitchen from which he can film shows and hold his masterclasses.

He and Jools spent £8.9 million on a Grade II-listed mansion near Hampstead Heath, north London, in 2016, and spent two years renovating it.

It boasted seven bedrooms, an open-plan kitchen with cream Aga, a grand piano and a Louis XV-style bed worth £2,200, it’s certainly impressive.

The Olivers have fitted the house with some quirky features, including a wood-fired pizza oven, a treehouse bed and a vegetable patch for the children.

Jamie hired his brother-in-law, Paul Hunt, married to his sister Anna-Marie, to run Jamie Oliver Ltd in 2014 — and last year Hunt assumed responsibility for the restaurants, too.

But some of his methods — such as making staff redundant over Christmas and cutting ties with Jamie’s friends and culinary mentors — have led to a reputation for ruthlessness.

Last year, an anonymous insider described him as an ‘arrogant, incompetent failure’ who was ‘running the business into the ground’.

Jamie rebutted the claims, saying the story was ‘nonsense’ and that Paul was ‘a loyal brother-in-law and loving father as well as a strong and capable CEO’.

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