The famous TV chef had to shut down all but three of his restaurants last year after a lengthy battle with financial difficulties. Seven years after the success of his BBC show The Naked Chef, he opened establishments that served Italian, US diner and other styles cuisine from 2008 onwards. Oliver gave his insight into the downfall of his food chain amid his new show, Keep Cooking at Christmas, returns to screens this weekend on Channel 4.
Oliver established a small empire after his TV appearances, which included book deals, licensing, TV work, restaurants and even a government campaign.
The chef led a 2005 healthy eating movement, which led to Turkey Twizzlers being banned for 15 years until this August, when they returned after a nationwide petition.
Last year, all but three of Oliver’s 25 restaurants were forced to close after millions of debt was accrued and unsuccessful attempts to bring them back from the brink with bailouts.
More than 1,000 people lost their jobs after the nationwide closures, which left two Jamie’s Italian restaurants and Jamie’s Diner at Gatwick Airport in 2019.
The TV star blamed their failure on a “perfect storm” of problems, including “rents, rates, the high-street declining, food costs, Brexit [and] increases in the minimum wage”.
He claimed the rise in business rates and the size of his buildings, which he said were “cathedrals instead of churches”, played a part too.
Oliver continued: “It is what it is, but I think that’s been very physically, mentally and financially tough… that was a tough one to swallow.”
He also revealed his belief that if he had chosen to focus on fine-dining rather than more affordable food within the mid-range he would have been a success.
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When asked if it felt “like a death”, he replied: “It was a little bit like someone who was very unwell. We nearly got there. And I thought I could get there, most importantly.”
Oliver’s restaurants had faced financial problems since 2016, which the star had tried to balance-out with investments from his own savings and loans from his broader company.
He admitted to the Financial Times in 2018 that he had invested £7.5million of his own money to save the restaurants when they were “hours from bankruptcy”.
One-year later, The Times reported that Oliver’s loss was closer to £25million after years of difficulties and that creditors faced losses of £83million.
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Despite the financial loss and frustration, Oliver said: “But I don’t think I regret it. If you were magic and you could fix this, you would.”
He pointed out that at their peak they had employed and trained “well over 20,000 people” and that the business brought in “probably a billion pounds”.
Oliver added: “Look, I’ve learnt a lot, I’ve experienced a lot. I think I’ve been the best version of me possible.
“I know I’ve been a good boss to certainly the very, very vast majority.”
The second episode of Jamie: Keep Cooking at Christmas airs 8pm Sunday on Channel 4.