One of London’s most famous restaurants — Corbin and King’s the Wolseley on Piccadilly — faces eviction of over unpaid rent it has accumulated during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a remarkable revelation, the The Financial Times (FT), reports that the Wolseley owes landlord STJ Investments almost £1 million in rent that Corbin and King were unable to meet after successive coronavirus lockdowns forced the restaurant to close its dining room throughout 2020 and into 2021.
“The landlord’s avowed intent was to get every single penny of rent,” Jeremy King, Corbin & King’s chief executive told the FT. The celebrated restaurateur has been candid about the role of landlords and policymakers through the crisis — lambasting government policy, landlord demands, and the impact of both on restaurant workers. “Our argument was, we will pay what is due but we will not pay [the debts] for the pandemic period,” King added.
The FT reports that the landlord has tried to evict the restaurant through the courts but King is unfazed. He told Eater London this lunchtime that he “would put the chance of the landlord’s case succeeding at 0.1%. We won’t be closing!”
The group whose restaurants reopened for indoor dining in May this year has maintained that a clause in the tenancy agreement means it is not obligated to pay rent for the period in which its dining room had to close — “if trading is not permitted at the site by government edict,” the FT says.
STJ Investments is now reportedly seeking alternative means of collecting the monies it believes it is owed: It has filed court papers this week claiming that the Wolseley had “illegally sublet the premises because the lease was in the name of the Wolseley Prop Co, while the rent is paid by the Wolseley Op Co,” according to the FT report.
STJ did not immediately respond to Eater London’s request for comment but is quoted through its lawyers in the original story as saying its route through the courts came as “a last resort” after offering to make a “reasonable concession” and claiming that the retaurant “refused to pay any rent for the period when the restaurant was forced to close.” The restaurant’s owners have confirmed this and explained that they couldn’t and weren’t legally obligated to do so.
In the autumn of 2020 when it was announced that Corbin and King would be resuscitating their Islington brasserie Bellanger, King said that landlords across its portfolio had been “generally supportive,” but that reality for restaurants which occupied central London locations and whose high rents make them so heavily reliant on tourists and office workers, is that the route to recovery in the aftermath of lockdown is particularly difficult. For the Wolseley, he said at the time, reopening quickly to the best of its ability was critical.
Corbin and King is renowned for its particular and inimitable brand of understated luxury, a style taken from the grand cafes of Vienna and brasseries of Paris, and the group’s critically acclaimed portfolio includes nine restaurants in London, including Brasserie Zédel in Soho, the Delaunay, on Aldwych, Colbert on Sloane Square, and Fischers in Marylebone.
Government policy in the U.K. throughout the pandemic has been to defer the rent crisis, attempting to facilitate negotiations between landlord and tenant, without enacting legislation which favours one party over the other. While many have complained throughout the crisis that such a strategy has been inadequate, many have reached agreement. But many haven’t with the amount of rent debt owed in hospitality estimated at £3 billion.
For now, restaurants are protected against eviction until March 2022, when the true scale of the rent crisis may finally become a little clearer — and stories like the Wolseley’s become less uncommon.
- Unpaid rent: the £6.4bn dispute that will shape the UK high street [Financial Times]