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Mon 1st May 2023 - Jamie Oliver to make return to London restaurant scene with Covent Garden opening
Jamie Oliver to make return to London restaurant scene with Covent Garden opening: Chef Jamie Oliver is to make his return to London’s restaurant scene with the opening of a new “landmark” site later this year, in Covent Garden. Oliver, who currently operates more than 70 restaurants across 23 countries, closed his UK restaurant business, which included the Jamie’s Italian chain, after its collapse in 2019. The new restaurant, situated in Drury Lane’s Theatre Royal, which is operated by Andrew Lloyd Webber's LW Theatres, will celebrate “everything that's wonderful about Britain's rich and diverse food culture with a seasonal menu that champions the best of British produce”. It will come with a higher price point than the chef’s former Jamie’s Italian brand and the business hasn’t ruled out opening more sites, although it is focused for now on “just concentrating on getting this one right”. Food will be sourced from the farmers, sustainable fisheries and artisan producers that Oliver has known and worked with for years, “from the best farmhouse cheesemakers to Creedy Carver who will supply free range chickens and ducks and Cobble Lane Cured to name but a few”. The restaurant will also champion emerging talent who bring a “fresh perspective to high quality, sustainable food and drink with real provenance”. The new site is yet to be named. Propel understands Oliver recently trademarked the name Clover Yard for restaurant use, but that his name could still end up being over the door. Oliver said: “Losing my UK restaurants was without doubt one of the hardest times of my life. But being a positive part of the restaurant industry is very close to my heart. We learnt lessons as we grew the international restaurants – there are now more than 70 across the world – so I'm very excited to open this restaurant in London and with an exceptional team, once again, serve the public. It's about going back to my culinary roots inspired by the dishes I grew up cooking in my mum and dad's pub restaurant. It's about celebrating Britain's rich and diverse food scene in what I hope will be an iconic, trusted restaurant in a very special place. This opportunity truly means the world to me.” Kevin Styles, chief executive of the Jamie Oliver Group said: "Being a positive part of the hospitality sector is incredibly important to us. We've been quietly growing our international restaurant franchise business and now operate in 23 countries with more than 70 restaurants. It has always been an ambition to return to our home market, when the time was right, and this feels like the perfect opportunity to open a very unique restaurant in a very unique venue that will celebrate beautiful, comforting dishes – old and new – from across the British Isles, reflecting the seasons, our rich and diverse food culture and supporting artisan producers. With the customer experience at the heart of everything we will do, we want to create great memories in a beautiful location.” Theatre Royal Drury Lane is one of the world's oldest theatre sites. In 2021, following a two-year, £60m restoration, the theatre reopened as an all-day destination in the heart of Covent Garden. As the next stage of this restoration plan, Oliver's new restaurant will see the development of a new space adjacent to the main theatre at 6 Catherine Street. Madeleine Lloyd Webber said: "We are delighted that, in opening this restaurant, the final part of our vision for Theatre Royal Drury Lane has come to fruition. We are thrilled that Jamie Oliver will be operating a restaurant as part of our five-star theatre experience. Our glorious theatre is open all day every day for everyone to enjoy the art and its glorious architecture, as well as luxury afternoon tea, cocktails and theatre tours and, of course, Disney's Frozen. Jamie Oliver's restaurant brings the final touch to Andrew’s and my dream for an all-day destination at Theatre Royal Drury Lane.”

Oliver gets ready to twist again by Propel group editor Mark Wingett

“I'm watching for now but I’ll definitely get back in the game.” So said Jamie Oliver in 2021. Last autumn, the chef followed this up by saying he had learned from the collapse of his restaurant chain and was ready “to go again”. Later this year, we will see what he has learned. After the initial success of Jamie's Italian business – once described as the saviour of the casual dining sector – to its ultimate demise in 2019, the question is what Oliver will we get? Speaking about whether he had learned from the collapse of Jamie’s Italian, Oliver said last October: “Yeah, for sure, and every other failure that I've had – which is about 50%. But I've never been more rounded, I've never been more experienced. It happens, and I would call it a minor blip really, in the vision and the dream. A very painful one. But definitely, I'm better for it. We had 13 amazing years and learned loads. I was a young man when I started, I'm much older and wiser now. It was never a size problem, it was rent and rates that got us really, and high street decline.”

Plus relevancy and complacency. Oliver launched the first Jamie’s Italian in Oxford in 2008. The concept was an instant hit, with diners queuing around the block, and the group went on to open more than 40 sites around the country. But after several years at the top, the business was accused of becoming complacent and failed to innovate to stay ahead of an increasingly competitive pack of concepts that had learnt from what Oliver had been doing and was now moving ahead. Speaking in 2018, then Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group chief executive Jon Knight admitted: “Other brands started doing what we were doing at a more affordable price. Suddenly they were the new thing, we didn’t invest in our estate or our brand so other newer, smarter and even smaller restaurants started to overtake us.” 

Aside from Union Jacks, the fledgling flatbreads/pizza concept that failed to take off, the first signs of trouble in the chef’s core brand came in 2017 when it closed six sites. The chain made a loss of nearly £30m that year and Oliver pumped £13m of his own money into the restaurant business as part of efforts to keep it afloat. The following January, the group announced a restructure involving the closure of 12 more Jamie’s Italian outlets and put its Barbecoa brand into administration, with only one of its three outlets surviving. With trading still tough, Oliver hired advisers in February 2019 to seek new investors for the restaurant business. Potential buyers did come forward and the chef put up another £4m of funds, but no suitable deal could be found. Oliver subsequently closed 22 of his 25 Jamie’s Italian UK restaurants with the loss of 1,000 jobs in May 2019. The business owed around £83m when it collapsed. Oliver, who is thought to have pumped in £25m of his own money in total to save the business, clawed back £2.4m from the collapse of his Italian restaurant empire, but suppliers to the chain were not so lucky. So, it is interesting that Oliver is working with suppliers he has known and worked with for years – some bridges must have been rebuilt. 

It is doubtful he would have returned without the confidence gained from the continued success of his business overseas. For many in the UK, it is doubtful they realise that Oliver still has a restaurant business, let alone one that continues to grow at pace internationally with a multi-brand portfolio of concepts, beyond the Jamie’s Italian brand, including Jamie Oliver Kitchen, Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria, Jamie Oliver’s Diner, Jamie’s Deli and The Jamie Oliver Cookery School. The business currently has 14 international partners and is planning approximately 20 new opening this year including its first restaurant in Germany, in Berlin, under the Jamie Oliver Kitchen brand. Ed Loftus, the company’s global restaurant group director, tells Propel: “Our international business is going from strength to strength, we are targeting 20 new franchise openings this year across the Middle East/India/Europe and Australia. The international growth is across a number of our different formats, with Jamie's Pizzeria/Jamie Oliver Kitchen and Jamie's Italian all growing significantly this year. Our longer-term goal is to have more than 200 international sites by 2027.”

Oliver, who dipped his toe back in the UK food and beverage waters last year, with the launch of delivery focused pasta concept Pasta Dreams in partnership with Taster, the delivery-first restaurant group, is also thought to be working with a number of ex-staff from his Jamie’s Italian/Fifteen days on the new opening. However, one absentee will be Paul Hunt, the company’s former chief executive, who stepped down in March 2021, after seven years in the role. Hunt, Oliver's brother-in-law, was viewed by some as one of the factors behind the collapse of the UK business. The new restaurant, which may or may not be called Clover Yard (and if Oliver still owns the Union Jacks name that may also fit), will be according to the business “a one off and completely different to anything we have done before”. It will move Oliver away from the casual dining market by being more premium, but will still be “accessible”, which may see him eventually follow a similar expansion strategy to the Ivy Collection. And on thoughts of doing more, the business is for now “just concentrating on getting this one right”. At present it is very much seen as the “right location, the right team” backed up by confidence from the growth in the international restaurant sector, although the company understands “when you get this right… that there are very healthy returns to be made”. So, it might be a one off, or it could be the start of something more significant, either way being Oliver it is guaranteed to generate plenty of column inches (see above for example). It will launch him back into a London restaurant scene that is as competitive and fickle than ever. It will also bring back the chef’s passion and a high-profile cheerleader to the sector. Will he still have the magic touch of his early days? And will he come up with a restaurant that can take on what the capita already has to offer? I doubt it will be dull finding out.

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