Jamie Oliver injected his own cash into Jamie’s Italian to keep it afloat.
Jamie Oliver injected his own cash into Jamie’s Italian to keep it afloat.

The call that almost destroyed Jamie Oliver

JAMIE Oliver has opened up for the first time about the frantic day his massive business empire almost came crashing down.

The TV chef, cookbook author, and troubled restaurateur said his portfolio - largely made up by the casual Italian chain, Jamie's Italian - had "simply run out of cash".

In an interview with the UK's Financial Times, the charismatic chef said he was filming an episode of his Channel 4 series Friday Night Feast with A-list actor Liv Tyler 10 months ago, when his phone starting ringing.

He ordered the crew to stop filming.

The message from the person at the other end of the line wasn't what Mr Oliver wanted to hear.

He was told Jamie's Italian, which he had aggressively expanded from a single outlet in Oxford in the south of England in 2008 to 43 restaurants by the end of 2016, was in serious trouble and on the verge of bankruptcy.

"We hadn't expected it," he told the publication. "That is just not normal, in any business. You have quarterly meetings. You do board meetings. People supposed to manage that stuff should manage that stuff."

The business had racked up debts of $128 million and he had just two hours to take drastic action to limit the damage.

"I had two hours to put money in and save it or the whole thing would go to sh*t that day or the next day," he said. "It was as bad as that and as dramatic as that."

In a frantic bid to stop his empire from crumbling, he immediately injected $13.5 million of his own cash into the restaurant chain and, in the months that followed, he invested a further $9.3 to sure up the business.

He was forced to close 12 of the chain's 37 restaurants and made about 600 staff redundant in an attempt to save the rest of the operation. One of those was the Australian arm of Jamie's Italian which was placed in voluntary administration.

This had come just a year after the celebrity chef had bought his Aussie outlets back to save them from closure after previous owners the Keystone Hospitality Group went into receivership.

However, more than 10 months after the chain came close to bankruptcy, the chef said he was still unsure why it ran into difficulty.

"I honestly don't know (what happened)," he said. "We're still trying to work it out, but I think that the senior management we had in place were trying to manage what they would call the perfect storm: rents, rates, the high street declining, food costs, Brexit, increase in the minimum wage. There was a lot going on."

Jamie’s Italian in Canberra was forced to close in April. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Jamie’s Italian in Canberra was forced to close in April. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

His company also announced it would wind up his entire Barbecoa steakhouse chain, just a year after seven Jamie's Italian branches were also shuttered along with a Jamie Oliver branded pizza business.

In addition, Recipease, his cooking school and high-end grocery chain, closed its doors.

The 42-year-old has reportedly pumped millions of pounds of his own cash into his restaurants to keep them afloat.

In Australia, the Brisbane-based Hallmark Group took over management of restaurants in Sydney, Parramatta, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. However, Jamie's Canberra restaurant couldn't be saved.

A sign posted on the door of the branch in April, in the CBD's Canberra Centre, read: "Dear Canberra, It is with great sadness that Jamie's Italian Canberra has had to close its doors indefinitely.

"We thank you for all of your support over the last 4.5 years. From all the staff at Jamie's Canberra we bid you a fond farewell," reported Fairfax.

It was signed, "Big Love Mr O xxx".


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