A German turnaround specialist was in advanced talks to acquire Jamie Oliver’s restaurant business until the day before administrators were called.
Aurelius Group, a Munich-listed investment firm, was set to acquire a majority stake in a deal that would have given the business up to £10 million of new funding, The Times has learnt.
While the proposal would have prevented the company from going bust and would have allowed most of its restaurants to continue trading, it is understood that there were concerns that this merely would have delayed the inevitable.
Aurelius is understood to have been the preferred bidder from a shortlist that included Endless, another turnaround investor, and the Carlyle Group, the private equity firm. The German group’s investments include Ideal Shopping Direct, the home shopping group, and Scholl Footwear.
Management’s decision not to pursue a deal led to the appointment of administrators from KPMG, who closed 22 of the 25 restaurants, most of them Jamie’s Italians, resulting in 1,000 redundancies.
Some of those affected could work for another chain rescued from administration recently. Martin Williams, head of Rare Restaurants, said last night that he would offer a “final stage” interview at Gaucho to all those who had lost their jobs in the collapse.
Jamie’s Italian was founded by Oliver, 43, in partnership with Gennaro Contaldo, 70, his mentor, in 2008. At its peak the chain had more than 40 restaurants in the UK. Like the wider industry it has come under pressure from rising costs, fragile consumer confidence and market oversupply and over the past two years had closed about 20 loss-making sites. Despite cash injections of about £13 million from Oliver’s holding company, Jamie’s Italian was deemed to require further investment.
Had the Aurelius deal been completed, the plan was to rename the outlets as, for example, Jamie Oliver at Leeds. The Italian concept would have been scrapped and a new, more global menu introduced.
Oliver, whose book publishing, broadcasting, licensing and international restaurant businesses are unaffected, could face claims from HSBC and Brakes, the food supplier, after providing them with personal guarantees after an earlier restructuring.
None of the parties would comment.