How Jamie Oliver’s food empire crumbled
JAMIE Oliver - the world's famous 'Naked Chef' - has officially bitten off more than he can chew. This is how his multi-million dollar fell apart.
The celebrity chef, anti-obesity campaigner, advocate for homeless people, cookbook creator and father-of-five has officially bitten off more than he can chew.
Administrators KPMG were appointed to his restaurant chain this week, with the outlets in London's Covent Garden, Piccadilly, and London Bridge among 22 that were closed immediately.
Only three outlets at London's Gatwick Airport remain as his empire became a kitchen nightmare that not even Gordon Ramsay could save.
Oliver has personally lost as much as $25 million (AUD) But he's still not worrying when a large electricity bill drops in the mail, he's worth more than $200 million (AUD) from his television career and property investments.
Oliver was distraught at the collapse this week.
"I'm devastated that our much-loved UK restaurants have gone into administration," he said.
"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."
There have been many theories as to why the restaurant chain collapsed - high rents, increased competition from smaller restaurants and even bad reviews.
But some of the 1300 staff whose jobs were at risk were angry they were told via email, particularly after Oliver had splashed out $12 million for a Tudor mansion in Essex in January.
News Corp went to Gatwick Airport, where Oliver's Jamie's Italian still operate to see if people were still keen on the British chef's version of the Mediterranean classics.
Jasmine London, 24, works airside at Gatwick where the restaurants are located but had never eaten there, or any other Oliver restaurant.
"No, never. I've not even been interested. I'd rather go to other Italian restaurants. Jamie's don't seem authentic," she said.
Ms London said that many people in "her generation" saw Oliver as the man who stole chips from their school dinners, rather than the popular celebrity chef.
"He went into schools and changed things, I was part of that generation and he upset a lot of people," she said in reference to Oliver's health crusade.
But June Lahm, 72, of Sydney, said while waiting at Gatwick for a flight to Venice, she felt sorry for Oliver, and worried about his staff and suppliers.
"I've eaten in the Jamie's Italian in Covent Garden in London and the Brisbane one," she said.
"I had this dish in Covent Garden with purple potatoes, it was so pretty but it was delicious as well.
"It's sad to see somebody so enthusiastic, who really did try to improve the diet of the Poms, having this trouble."
Ms Lahm said that Oliver's efforts in school canteens were on par with the changes chef Stephanie Alexander's kitchen gardens have had on Australian schools.
But Ms Lahm, a former chef, said Oliver had too many fingers in too many pies.
She said famed chef Tetsuya Wakuda kept his standards up in Sydney by only having a small number of restaurants.
"He's not spread himself too thin like Jamie has," she said.
Oliver, 43, has been a household name since 1999 when his first cooking show, The Naked Chef, hit screens.
Full points go to producers for the show's name, so cheeky and so intriguing.
It was a bit like Oliver himself, a young, enthusiastic chef who promised to simplify cooking so that people could conquer their kitchen fears.
The 24 episodes were wildly successful, and "pukka", which was his slang for delicious, became a household word.
Oliver was one of the first down to earth celebrity chefs.
He was the chef that your mum wanted to have around for dinner - the counterpoint to the abrasive Ramsay who was also dominating television screens in the early 2000s.
The cook books followed the television shows.
Since 2000, he has written more than 31 cook books, sometimes publishing four separate titles in a year.
But when you look at the sales figures it's easy to see why.
Oliver has sold more than 10 million cook books, and at one point was only behind Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling on the list of highest value sales of British authors.
Endorsements rolled in too.
He became the face of Sainsbury's, a mid to upper range supermarket in Britain, in 2000 on a reported fee of more than $2 million (AUD) per year.
His television commercials and promotional material made his star shine brighter.
Like Curtis Stone on the advertisements for Coles in Australia - Oliver was inescapable.
Oliver has now swapped supermarkets and is fronting ads for Tesco.
But it hasn't all been about him.
The irrepressible Oliver opened his Fifteen Foundation in 2002 - a restaurant staffed by disadvantaged people to give them a chance to learn the trade.
The restaurant opened to fanfare and success with a television show about the "journey" as a side dish.
But in 2003, Oliver was starting to grind the gears of some when he was voted into a poll of 100 worst Britons - his crime was overexposure.
The chef then ruffled feathers again with his Jamie's School Dinners in 2005.
The four-episode series took aim at the nutrition and quality of school canteens.
Unlike Australia, where children are used to taking their own lunches, British children are supplied with a lunch every school day.
Such was the response to the show, the menus are now restricted to fried food just twice a week.
But while we applaud efforts to promote healthy eating, which we all probably want to do more, Oliver is pushing a wheelbarrow up a very steep hill.
There's a YouTube clip of Oliver showing a group of young children the feathers and feet that are used to make up chicken nuggets.
He cuts up the carcass, with all its blood and guts, to the shrieks of the primary school aged children.
They look repulsed and gag as he blends to the bones and adds in the congealed chicken skin.
He then asks the children "now who would still eat this?" The response is like a pack of hungry seagulls stalking a toddler's sandwich crust at the zoo - all their hands go up instantly, with some standing on their tip toes to make sure he can see their vote.
Oliver branched out to Australia in 2006 when he opened a Fifteen restaurant in Melbourne, with a television series to boot.
The glare on the 20 disadvantaged young trainee chefs was like if they were lining up for a goal looking straight into the MCG floodlights.
The restaurant, which was run in partnership with Melbourne celebrity chef Tobie Puttock, struggled through a mix of distance and some employee sabotage.
A former employee, who had a gambling problem burned down the restaurant in 2008 in a bid to hide his stealing.
He claimed that $15,000 cash was left in the office, instead of in the restaurant, which had caught fire and burnt.
Paddock closed the restaurant on New Year's Eve in 2010, reopening the next day under a new name at the same location.
He expanded the restaurants program for disadvantaged apprentices to involve other establishments to keep it going.
"Fifteen was very organised and it worked for many years and is going really well in England," Puttock said when closing Fifteen Melbourne.
"But they are on the other side of the world and there is only so much they could do to help me down here, purely because of the distance thing, so we've come up with our own model."
Oliver's Jamie's Italian had been struggling in Australia as far back as 2016.
He ploughed in his own cash in March 2017 to try to save them but was rescued by the Hallmark Group in 2018 after more red ink forced him to sell.
At the same time Oliver was putting his finger in the damn wall in Australia, in the UK he was "begging landlords of his underperforming restaurants to cut rents in an attempt to stop the chain going bust", according to The Sun on Sunday.
WHAT HAPPENS TO JAMIE'S ITALIAN IN AUSTRALIA
But Australian Jamie fans can still eat at his restaurants in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
A spokeswoman from the Hallmark Group told News Corp Australia they will still continue to operate as normal.
In a statement this week, the Group wrote: "We are saddened to hear about the Jamie's Italian UK business going into administration.
"The problems are isolated to the UK business.
"Jamie's Italian Australia will remain trading as usual under the Australian owner and operator Hallmark Group Holdings.
"The Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide Jamie's Italian Australia venues are all unaffected."
The spokeswoman also told News Corp: "The Australian venues will continue to use the same brand name and menus."
"Nothing will change in the international arm of the Jamie's Italian businesses," she added.
JAMIE OLIVER'S EATERIES COP BAD REVIEWS
But the question being asked this week is did Oliver create a food Frankenstein?
When your name is everywhere, your cook books are selling out and like the theme song from Cheers - everybody knows your name - it was understandable you would think more success would come.
But Oliver has become like other celebrity chefs, including My Kitchen Rules' Manu Feildel, who has found that the hospitality industry is unforgiving.
The reviews did not help either.
One from the British magazine The Spectator was particularly brutal.
Reviewer Tanya Gold wrote of her visit to the Jamie's Italian in Soho, London's red-light district, that "the service is a tribute to Oliver's TV shtick - chaotic love-bombing."
But the menu and the food were not worth the price.
"We progress through the enormous menu; enormous, in menus, usually bespeaks anxiety and, in this case, confusion about geography and provenance," she said.
"Because Oliver likes to place the word "Italian" before dishes that are not Italian, as if wishing them Italian will make them so: for instance there is Crispy Italian-Spiced Duck Leg and, more preposterously, Italian Steak Frites."
"It is boastful too: Our Famous Prawn Linguine. The Ultimate Burger. World's Best Olives on Ice. Awarding Winning Pecorino & Chilli Jam. Epic Brownie."
But you can't make an omelette without breaking an egg.
JAMIE OLIVER'S STILL A FAMILY MAN
Oliver's day as a restaurant magnate may be over, but with five children to his childhood sweetheart Jools, he will never have a dull moment.
Poppy, 17, Daisy, 16, Petal, 10, Buddy, 8, and lucky last River, 2, will definitely keep him busy.
He revealed his anguish when 12 of his restaurants closed last year.
"Restaurant years are like dog years, so 10 years is a very long time. It's been a dark time… there's been not-so-nice darkness," he told the Women's Weekly.
"I go home and see my kids and that always cheers me up," he said.
"Jools and I have struggled at times," he said. "You have to retune from having a child to a young woman. Whether we're pulling back or tightening up… especially with social media. We're the first generation of parents having to feel our way through that. If we have too many blips at home, I'll take their phone away for a day."
Jools posted on Instagram last month of her pride for Jamie.
"So it's been 20 years since the 'naked chef' program first hit out screens and what a ride it has been. I have loved that we started this journey together and I got to share with you in all the highs and lows of your career so far," she wrote.
"Words can never say how proud of you I am and how absolutely hard you have worked and not just for yourself.
"Probably the best boss around, love you lots, here's to the next chapter."
Oliver's souffle will rise again.