The boss of the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group has spoken about the downfall of the business and how it “rested on its laurels” as the competition around heated up.
When Jamie’s launched it aimed to open in key towns and cities around the UK with high footfall. “It was a great start and for five years the business enjoyed the growth,” Jonathan Knight, chief executive officer, told the Casual Dining show at London Angel’s Business Design Centre today.
However, as the industry changed Jamie’s remained stagnant. It “didn’t take notice of the competition or how it was developing” and “rested on its laurels” as it celebrated it’s “victory” of revolutionising the casual dining market.
Knight continued: “Other brands started doing what we were doing with a more affordable price and with the benefit of being the ‘new thing’. Smaller restaurants started to overtake us.
“We stared to move into towns where there wasn’t large footfall and new sites were chosen which didn’t work for us. Most importantly we lost touch with Jamie, there was a growing disconnect between what Jamie was doing on TV and in his books, and people weren’t experiencing that in the restaurants.”
He explained that between 2016 and 2017 the business “lost its way”, that there were “signs that the UK business was running in to trouble” and the international business was “at risk of contagion” if something didn’t change.
“Over the last 12 months we almost become besieged – the competition had encircled us,” Knight said. “We can now see that change wasn’t actioned quick enough by us. We lost a bit of confidence and forgot who we were. We didn’t know who the competitors were or who we were.”
Last month, Jamie’s Italian accepted a CVA and announced the closure of 12 sites around the UK. Knight said: “We are trying to make things right, things that should have been fixed long ago. Those 12 restaurants are only part of the reason of why we weren’t making money, we have now looked into the rest of the business.”
This week, it was announced that the group’s two venue strong Barbecoa brand had entered administration. Today Knight confirmed the closure of the Piccadilly site. “We had to assess if it was worth keeping two restaurants open taking into consideration the rising rents and rates,” he said.
The St Paul’s restaurant will continue to trade as normal while a buyer is found for the company.
Knight said: “Fortunately we are in a position to redeploy these staff however we have had to say goodbye to lots of colleagues and good friends.
“We had to make these decisions for the future success of the business going forward. Overall, we have saved 1,900 jobs. If we hadn’t have done anything and carried on the same way as before, then the business would have folded.”
Looking to the future, Knight said the business has recently undergone a management restructure and investment is to be given to staff training and refreshing the 25 remaining UK sites.
He finished: “We know these challenging times will pass. We are positive and have a strong brand people have come to love with a collection of busy and profitable sites. We believe there’s still a lot of love out there for Jamie so what we have to do now is join the dots. He’s the one we were representing and we are bringing him back in a big way.”
Jamie Oliver restaurant group has 52 sites internationally – Jamie’s Italian, Jamie’s Deli, Jamie’s Diner and Jamie’s Pizzeria, which most recently opened in Budapest.
Since December, the brand has opened six international sites. “With everything else going on in the UK we are still flourishing nationally,” Knight said. “I strongly believe the Jamie’s business has a reason to exist, and the future is looking positive.”
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