It’s been a tough few months for celebrity chef, healthy eating campaigner and entrepreneur Jamie Oliver, who was forced to close 12 of his 37 Italian restaurants – including one at Bluewater in Kent – after a downturn in the chain’s fortunes.
The entrepreneur is said to have been devastated to have had to make the decision, with the loss of an estimated 200 jobs, but in characteristic style he is back with a new venture, setting up niche food outlets in offices and workplaces across the UK and Europe.
Jamie has joined forces with Aramark – a giant in the food services industry – to create a new eating experience, described by Aramark’s Northern Europe president Frank Gleeson as “a taste of things to come”. The financial media has spoken of the Jamie’s Italian chain incurring millions of pounds of debt, but both Jamie and his management team remain upbeat and confident they can survive the crisis.
Three of Jamie’s Italian restaurants remain in the South East – at Brighton, Gatwick and Guildford.
Sensing we are experiencing an enormous change within the food and drink industry, brought about by the way we now socialise, I asked Frank Gleeson and the CEO of the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group Jon Knight to share their thoughts on the topic and explain how and why the joint venture came about.
The deal has been described as “a 10-year partnership which will see the two companies work together on an exclusive basis to enhance food concepts and delivery across workplaces in Northern Europe, including the United Kingdom and Ireland”. So how will it work?
Frank explains the benefit to Aramark of working with Jamie’s restaurant business: “Together, we have an opportunity to create innovative culinary experiences that will revolutionise productivity and health in workplaces”, he said. To Jon, the partnership “gives us an opportunity to expand our presence geographically in Northern Europe including the United Kingdom and Ireland where we already operate. Aramark’s mission of enriching and nourishing lives resonated with us, reflecting our own values.”
Jon says that the concept is to create Jamie’s restaurants within the business community. “There are so many huge office buildings across the UK and Europe, some containing between 3,000 and 4,000 people, a captive audience. Working with Aramark gives us the opportunity to reach them, to set up a new Jamie brand with his vision and great food, but without the need to find new outlets.” He regards the prospect as “a new and exciting path for Jamie, retaining the brand, adapting the knowledge, know-how and skills”.
Frank sees the development as a way of achieving one of his guiding principles, making a difference to the way food services are delivered. He explained: “From flexible working to team bonding activity and the sharing of information, we have far to go in making our workplace truly fit for the talent it needs to attract, motivate and retain. We can do far better and what better way to do so than with food?
“Today, half the UK workforce are millennials who hold no candle for unresponsive employers. Furthermore, as by-products of technology, they take innovation for granted. Millennials are taste-makers who have completely re-invented the high street, which now offers every possible permutation of culinary treat, from exotic street food to Michelin-starred palaces. Next comes the workplace, where the time is ripe to weave the same magic we have seen on the high street and revolutionise the way people at work eat.”
With these two giants in their field now joining forces, the way is open for a revolution in workplace refreshment.
Frank adds: “We know the workplace better than most, we cater for it in practically every sector, from successive Olympic Games to remote oil rigs, in offices, retail parks and institutions across the world. Like few others, Jamie understands how good food creates conviviality and happiness, qualities that are enjoyable after hours, but crucial also at work, where wellbeing, good health, communication and sharing are the vital ingredients to a boost in productivity.
“Jamie’s standards, which he champions from the classroom to the retailer, have never slipped. Nor have they ever been as timely, or pertinent among such a mightily important audience as they are today. By extending Jamie’s ethos and philosophy to the workplaces we serve, we will empower employers with a compelling and modern proposition which is as customisable and relevant to their workers as any high street offering.”
Jon echoes this ethos, taking time to explain and apologise for the dip in Jamie’s restaurant business, while looking to the future.
“We’ve gone through a huge period of change, but I have 100% support for what Jamie is doing. We are bringing customers back to the forefront of the business. Just two days ago, I was out with the team visiting restaurants and asking customers what they thought of the new menu – which Jamie had helped to create, cook, taste and develop.
“We are not employing a marketing company to do this, we are doing it ourselves because Jamie and the rest of us are intent on providing the best quality eating out experience on the high street. There are lines we will not cross, in food provenance, freshness, price and investing in the future. The customer is king.”
Jon admitted the food industry had been guilty of complacency, believing it was providing what the customer wanted. The latest crisis, which involved having to make difficult decisions over the future of individual restaurants, had been the hardest period he had worked through in his long career in the business, but he firmly believed change was for the best.
“Everything is circular. These challenging times will pass, the uncertainty will lift and we will move forward feeling much more confident,” he said.
Jon Knight on Jamie Oliver
- Jamie’s is a fantastic brand, with reach across the world. There’s a lot of love out there for him.
- The changes we’ve had to go through have been very difficult for Jamie. He regards the business as a family, everyone there to support one another and it has hit him hard to close restaurants, with all that entailed for the people involved. We have lost great friends and colleagues, but saved other jobs in the process.
- His name is across all his restaurants and he is very much involved in every aspect of the business.