Jamie Oliver's NZ plans uncertain as he narrowly avoids Australian collapse

Jamie Oliver at his Canberra restaurant Jamie's Italian.
KATHERINE WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Jamie Oliver at his Canberra restaurant Jamie's Italian.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's plan to salvage his Australian restaurant chain has narrowly avoided collapse, while his plans to open a New Zealand eatery remain shrouded in mystery.

The world-renowned cook intended to open his first Kiwi restaurant in Wellington last year, but plans were abandoned after the Australian operator of Jamie's Italian restaurants went into receivership.

However, in November, Oliver moved to buy back the business, which included six restaurants, from then-owners Keystone Hospitality Group to save the franchise. He planned to have the transaction wrapped up by April 11.

Oliver currently has 42 Jamie's Italian restaurants in the UK and more than 36 abroad.
DAVID LOFTUS/SUPPLIED

Oliver currently has 42 Jamie's Italian restaurants in the UK and more than 36 abroad.

But Oliver's plans to bring his eponymous restaurants back in-house under his British parent group hit a snag when the sale was not finalised by the deadline.

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It is still unclear what Oliver's plans are for New Zealand.
KATHERINE GRIFFITHS/FAIRFAX MEDIA

It is still unclear what Oliver's plans are for New Zealand.

However, an urgent court hearing in New South Wales concluded with administrators and receivers being granted extra time to complete the takeover from the Keystone Group, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The NSW Supreme Court heard that if an extension of time was not granted, the Jamie's companies - which are insolvent - would go into liquidation, with the loss of more than 300 jobs.

Administrator Katherine Barnet told the court both parties agreed to the sale on December 31 but there had been a delay in finalisation for a number of reasons, including the complexity of the transaction and negotiations with the respective landlords at each restaurant.

Justice Fabian Gleeson agreed on Friday to a four-week extension to reconvene the second meeting of creditors for the Jamie's entities in order to allow the sale to be completed.

Under the terms of the agreement with Jamie's Italian International Limited - an English company of which Oliver is a director - all employees will be offered the same or similar jobs with the same terms and conditions.

The Keystone Group was placed in receivership when it failed to renegotiate an A$80 million (NZ$85.8 million) loan with its financiers, the private equity group KKR and Olympus Capital.

Barnet told the court at least 257 proofs of debt have been received by the administrators, worth a total A$118 million.

Following Keystone's collapse, Oliver said the Australian franchises were some of the best-performing Jamie's Italian restaurants worldwide and Keystone's woes were not a reflection on the performance of the restaurants.

At the time, Oliver told Stuff: "We're trying to buy it [the Jamie's Italian franchise] back ourselves, so it's run by myself, which is our intention. 

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"With that in mind, one of the first priorities will be New Zealand again because we really want to be there. I love Wellington; it's one of my favourite places. 

"It will happen, whether someone else buys it - which is not my preferred choice - or whether we get it, which I should find out in the next two weeks. 

"New Zealand will be very much back on the radar and we're excited to make it happen."

In January, Oliver decided to close five Jamie's Italian restaurants in England and one in Scotland by the end of the first quarter of this year.

At the time, Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group chief executive Simon Blagden​ told The Guardian: "As every restaurant owner knows, this is a tough market and post-Brexit the pressures and unknowns have made it even harder."

A combination of high costs for ingredients, staff training and lower foot traffic had forced the restaurant closures, Blagden said.

The six restaurants accounted for less than 5 per cent of the restaurant chain's total turnover, and overall the chain continued to perform well at home and abroad, he said.

"In the UK, we will be focusing on our core Jamie's Italian estate and on the expansion of the Barbecoa brand, which will see two new openings in 2017.

"Internationally, we plan to launch another 22 Jamie's Italian restaurants with our current partners and are also looking forward to focusing on running and developing further our newly acquired Australian restaurants."

Oliver currently has 42 Jamie's Italian restaurants in the UK and more than 36 abroad run under his name.

 - Stuff

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