Wabi London administration exposes bitter dispute between partners

17 June 2013 by
Wabi London administration exposes bitter dispute between partners

A bitter dispute between the partners in high-end Japanese restaurant Wabi London led to its fall into administration just eight months after it opened, it has emerged.

News of the administration of the business came to light this week, after diners with reservations found the restaurant in London's Lincoln's Inn Fields closed for business.

Around 50 members of staff were made redundant as a result of the move. Administrator BM Advisory is now handling the affairs of the business, and it is not yet clear what will become of the site.

A spokesman for the Wabi London business, restaurant consultant Andrew Mitchell, said the owners took the decision to put the business into administration because it had been struggling with high costs. He estimated that they had put around £1.1m into the running of the restaurant over the past eight months.

He laid the blame for the situation on former managing director and executive chef Scott Hallsworth, who is also a partner in the business. Hallsworth strongly denies the claim and argued instead that it was a lack of investment that led to the restaurant's demise.

The administration came three weeks after Hallsworth left the business having been dismissed for what Mitchell claims was gross misconduct.

Hallsworth, who spent six years at Japanese restaurant firm Nobu opened Wabi London in November 2012, was backed by his business partner Andre Cachia.

At the time of Wabi London's opening, Hallsworth said he wanted Wabi to become the rival of the likes of Nobu and Roka.

But it appears that the relationship between Hallsworth and Cachia turned sour. Hallsworth said he had already taken a decision to leave the business around 10 weeks ago because he was dissatisfied with the way in which the business was being run and feared for his reputation as a chef.

He said that it was only when he revealed his intention to leave that the other partners made moves to dismiss him. He was allegedly dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct, which is understood to stem from the fact that he had been working as a consultant for a restaurant project called Santoku in Accra, Ghana, which according to Mitchell was not allowed by the terms of his contract.

Hallsworth does not dispute the fact that he had been acting as a consultant, but said he had an informal agreement with Cachia from the beginning of their partnership that he was allowed to do this.

Mitchell, who said he was called in to try and get the 110-seat restaurant up and running after its original July opening date slipped, said the restaurant was overstaffed, employing around 90 people at its opening, when it was only drawing in around 20 people at lunchtimes and 60-70 in the evenings and blamed Hallsworth for a lack of control over food costs.

"I think it is very sad. The restaurant is fantastic, the concept was good, and it had the money behind it to be very very successful but it was mismanaged," said Mitchell.

But Hallsworth, who was understood to be on a £80,000-a-year salary, denied that he had employed as many as 90 people, and strongly disputed the idea that he didn't have control over costs. "We were hoping to punch a little bit higher in terms of guests. We were supposed to open in the middle of the year, in July. But because of the lack of investment, there were delays so we ended up opening in December, which was a really bad month to open.

"To pin it on me is completely unfair. There was an executive board, which I sat on, which made decisions. I didn't make decisions by myself."

Mitchell also claimed that Hallsworth had not kept a tight enough grip on food costs, and had been kept away from the business by his consultancy work, causing him to lose focus. But Hallsworth also strongly denied that he had not kept tabs on food costs." I did all the costings for Nobu London, I know exactly how it works. Given that there were no management accounts filed, I couldn't tell you exactly what the food costs came in at because they were never presented back to me to work on, so I dispute that heavily," he said.

Hallsworth is now expected to sell his holding in Wabi London and Wabi Horsham back to the firm.

Wabi in Horsham, Sussex, is unaffected by the problems at the restaurant in the capital and continues to trade.

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