Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's plan to salvage Australian restaurants avoids collapse in court
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's plan to salvage his Australian Jamie's Italian restaurant chain has narrowly avoided collapse with a court granting administrators and receivers extra time to complete the takeover from failed hospitality company the Keystone Group.
The buy-back decision by the star chef, who has built an empire from being an apprentice cook in his dad's pub in Essex, UK, came after Keystone was put into receivership in June last year owing more than A$100 million.
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 April 11 deadline for a creditors' meeting mandated under the corporations law.
During an urgent hearing, the New South Wales Supreme Court was told that if an extension of time was not granted, the Jamie's companies – which are insolvent – would proceed into liquidation, with the loss of more than 300 jobs.
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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 on Friday agreed 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.
In January, receivers Ferrier Hodgson announced 16 of Keystone's 17 venues had been sold, with the Dixon Group buying Bungalow 8, Cargo Bar, Manly Wine, The Rook, The Winery, Kingsleys Woolloomooloo and Kingsleys Brisbane.
The Gazebo and Sugarmill Hotel were sold via private sales and Chophouse Sydney was sold to the Solotel Group, which is part-owned by celebrity chef Matt Moran.
The Keystone Group was placed in receivership when it failed to renegotiate an $80 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 shock 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.
- Sydney Morning Herald