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Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's U.K. restaurant chain collapses into insolvency | CBC News

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's British restaurant chain filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, partly due to increased competition and escalating rents in local commercial districts.

The insolvency put 1,300 jobs at risk and reignited worries about local retail and food outlets in Britain, which are struggling to attract customers, much like downtowns in the United States.

The Jamie Oliver Group said Tuesday it had gone into administration, a form of bankruptcy protection, and appointed KPMG to oversee the process.

"I'm devastated that our much-loved UK restaurants have gone into administration," the British chef wrote on Twitter.

"I am deeply saddened by this outcome and would like to thank all of the staff and our suppliers who have put their hearts and souls into this business over the years."

Some 25 restaurants will be affected, including the Jamie's Italian chain, the more upmarket Fifteen, and steak house Barbecoa.

Fifteen Cornwall, which operates as a franchise, and international locations of the Jamie's Italian restaurant chain "will continue to trade as normal," a spokesperson for the Jamie Oliver Group told CBC News Tuesday morning.

There are two Jamie's Italian restaurants in Canada, located in Toronto and Mississauga, Ont.

Oliver, 43, a well known figure in Britain and beyond for his popular TV shows, founded his Jamie's Italian brand of restaurants in 2008. He says he started it "with the intention of positively disrupting mid-market dining" with higher quality ingredients, animal welfare standards, better service and good value.

But the launch came just as local businesses throughout the U.K. were squeezed by the onset of the 2008 financial crisis. Rising food prices, increasing rents and competition took a toll.

Put £13M into chain

The company had been in trouble for at least two years, despite Oliver's global fame on the back of his cookbooks and television shows. Last year, it shuttered 12 of its 37 sites in Britain, while five branches of the Australian arm of Jamie's Italian were sold off and another put into administration.

He has personally pumped £13 million (about $22 million Cdn) into his Italian chain, but it was not enough.

"I appreciate how difficult this is for everyone affected," Oliver said.

Discovered by the BBC while working in London's River Cafe, Oliver gained widespread fame for his Naked Chef show, which was broadcast in dozens of countries.

He used his reputation to put pressure on politicians to combat growing child obesity problems by campaigning for healthier school meals.

Simon Mydlowski, a partner at Yorkshire law firm Gordons and an expert on the hospitality industry, said Oliver's restaurant chain is the latest brand that has failed to keep pace in a rapidly changing sector where a business needs to keep evolving.

"A number of suppliers will have been caught unawares here, perhaps showing a little too much trust in the Jamie Oliver name, but this is not the first big restaurant chain to have suffered and it won't be the last," he said in a statement.

"Faced with higher rent, rising food prices and increased competition, restaurants need a point of difference — it's no coincidence that smaller brands with the freedom and flexibility to keep things fresh are currently the ones performing well."

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