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What’s Going on in Jamie Oliver’s Empire?

Restaurant closures, no more print magazine and personnel changes, but books and TV still thrive

The Big Feastival - Day 2
Jamie Oliver
Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant and publishing businesses appear to be in a bit of hot water. Just over a fortnight ago, it was reported that Jamie’s Italian — the chef’s principal restaurant brand — posted a £9.9m loss for the last financial year. That came after the company’s decision to close six restaurants in January (all outside of central London) and the closure of Union Jacks, the pizza restaurant, in Covent Garden in March. Earlier this week, MCA reported that the restaurant arm of the company — Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group — had “brought in an external advisor to work with its new management team to help steer it through its next phase.” Now, the chef has announced the closure of his print publication, Jamie Magazine.

Amid many changes in the company’s fortunes, and efforts to streamline, here’s a look at where the different strands of Oliver’s empire currently are:

Jamie Magazine

The chef’s print magazine, published by Hearst, will close at the end of this year. Comparing it to the likes of Glamour, which recently announced plans to move to digital-first, a representative told Eater London that it means the company can now “concentrate on digital.”

A spokesperson for Jamie Oliver Group said, “We are incredibly proud of Jamie Magazine, which won International Consumer Media Brand of the Year in 2015, and our hugely talented editorial staff.

We’ve conducted extensive research into our audience needs and while Jamie’s books are more popular than ever — 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food is the fastest selling Jamie book — our audience is increasingly also looking to digital platforms to find content.

This behaviour shift presents a continued opportunity to develop exciting and innovative ways to deliver trusted food content to our engaged audience, at scale. With thousands of recipes now available online, takes the essence of the magazine — tried and tested recipes that always work, together with full nutritional information to help our audience make better food choices.”

Jamie Oliver's Restaurant 'Fifteen'

Jamie’s Italian and the restaurants

In addition to the closures announced earlier this year, yesterday, it was reported that the 340-cover Jamie’s Italian — in Gunwharf, Portsmouth which opened in 2011 — would close on 29 October because the landlord wished to replace the restaurant with four new retail units. The Caterer quotes a spokesperson from the company, saying “we will be looking to secure as many of those affected as possible with alternative jobs within the restaurant group estate.”

Earlier this year, Simon Blagden, then head of the restaurant group, cited pressures of “a tough market,” exacerbated the “unknowns” caused by Brexit in the casual dining sector. Nothing yet suggests that the company’s independent restaurant brands — Fifteen, Barbecoa or Jamie Oliver’s Diner — are in any immediate danger.

Today, a spokesperson for Jamie Oliver told Eater London. “As you know, it’s a tough trading climate in the UK restaurant sector and to ensure we’re in the best possible shape to continue to grow, develop and take things into the exciting next chapter, we’re reshaping the business.”

It is also worth noting that although further closures of Jamie’s Italian may occur, 35 still operate in the UK.

Senior management and the next phase

Simon Blagden, who headed up the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group since it was founded in 2008, has left the company. He has been replaced by Jon Knight. Knight’s focus appears to be on international growth, partly through new sub-brands such as through Jamie’s Pizzeria, Deli and Diner, as well as consolidation of the domestic restaurants. “He's worked very successfully to grow the international side of the business, delivering 18 new openings in this year alone,” the representative said.

The Mail on Sunday reported that the Finance Director, Tara O'Neill, has also departed the company.

Oliver’s representative explained that the two arms of the business will now be consolidated: “Jon [Knight] and core functions will come under the same management as that of Jamie Oliver Holdings [the division of the company which runs the chef’s books and TV work, led by Oliver’s brother-in-law, Paul Hunt] to maximise our creative resources and to ensure even greater brand alignment.

“And Jamie will be taking on a more hands-on role and is very excited about how we bring the restaurant group closer to the heart of the business.”

While there appears to be flux and challenges as the restaurants readjust to a new reality in Brexit Britain, there remain success stories elsewhere. The Times reported earlier this month that the company’s 89 restaurants are spread across 24 countries, his TV shows are sold to 220 broadcasters in 200 countries and the series that accompanied his latest book ‘5 Ingredients’ has sold in 100 countries.

The Times also reported that Jamie Oliver Holdings — owned in full by the chef — “paid him a dividend of £4m in line with the previous year, while Jamie Oliver Licensing, which sells branded products and where he is the majority shareholder, held the dividend at £6 million.”