With the exception of more than 1,000 gutted employees, the news that celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant empire had had its chips and was being placed into administration hardly came as a surprise.
A sad inevitability, but not a surprise, especially given the unsustainable multi-million pound losses it has posted in recent years – around £29 million on a global turnover of £100m in 2017 alone.
And further proof that, no matter how wealthy, chirpy, talented and likeable someone is – I know, some of you find it hard to stomach that he was actually liked – does not guarantee success.
Certainly not in the competitive world of casual dining. In fact, Jamie’s celeb status might have been part of the problem.
Customers expected cheaper pricing and slicker service, and were quick to vote with their feet and voice their opinions on social media when they didn’t match up to their expectations.
Unreasonably, some even moaned that his name was on the door but he wasn’t on site.
Ultimately, failure comes from a combination of factors. Like other big restaurant chains that have been hit recently, such as Carluccio’s, Byron Hamburgers, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Patisserie Valerie, Jamie has been hampered by higher business rates, operational and supply costs, and increased competition.
Not only that, but he was already on the ropes, having poured in an estimated £12 million last year to try to save his brand.
Quite simply, he was already doomed.
I have enormous sympathy for Jamie, as I know full well what it’s like to lose a business that you love, as I once owned a restaurant, a few actually.
Like Jamie, in a misguided effort to stave off the inevitable, I threw in almost every penny I had, instead of realising the errors of my ways and calmly walking away.
Thankfully I wasn’t tied down with personal guarantees to the bank at the time as Jamie is or I would have lost everything.
For some mad reason, 15 years ago, my then-business partner and I convinced ourselves what Glasgow needed was a cheap pre-club Russian-themed vodka bar.
We agreed to spend £500,000 on it. What we ended up with was a £1.4 million Russian imperial restaurant and bar called Stavka.
Complete with original 19th Century chandeliers from the Moscow Metro, gilded gold mirrors, branded tiled floors and walls, state-of-the-art bars, toilets and sound system, it wouldn’t have looked out place in Dr Zhivago.
For extra authenticity we imported Baltika, beer from St Petersburg.
The fact that it cost about £5 a pint back then was quietly forgotten, as we struggled with a long list of disasters.
They included the restaurant’s, air con which blew air out at a Siberian -20 degrees and our menu of Russki faves such as borscht (beetroot soup) and solyanka (cucumber soup), which didn’t go down well on more refined Glaswegian palates.
However, what was well received was our fantastic and very authentic “Russian”…pizzas!
In our insanity, we had imported a huge wood-burning pizza oven from Italy. The problem was the fitting instructions were in Italian. A language my Irish handyman was definitely not up to speed on. Unable to get it lit, he stuffed it full of wood and paper, turned on the gas and threw a match in it …BOOM!
Honestly, his name really was Jim Burns, but luckily, he was only a little singed.
After an initial burst of public support had worn off, Stavka’s huge costs, as well as its uncompetitive food and drink prices, began to take its toll.
I loved the place, but it was a loss-making trophy which I stupidly thought would change if I poured more money into it. Four years later, when my head took over from my heart, and with no more to money left to pour in, we let it go.
It was painful experience, not as debilitating and crushing as the global banking crisis which was just around the corner, but painful all the same.
But it made me stronger and I bounced back.
As I said, I sympathise with Jamie’s predicament, but I also now respect him for trying his best, against all financial advice, to save his business, so I hope that he also bounces back.
I’m sure, given his drive, talent and the millions he’s not squandered, that he will.
I won’t however, watch him when he’s on the box – I can’t stand him, either!