Are restaurants owned by celebrity chefs high-risk for big reward?

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Jamie Oliver Restaurant

Celebrity chefs are something of an unusual breed. Famous for their cooking prowess, they monetise their skills through cookbooks, merchandise, tv programmes and restaurants. Instead of living out of the limelight like many of our countries best-regarded chefs, we see them on our bookshelves, in our magazines, and on our televisions. But, with more celebrity scandals being exposed than ever before, I have to wonder whether having a celebrity chef behind your restaurant puts you at risk. Does having an owner who lives in the public eye put both staff and business at risk of falling short due to the namesake’s actions?

In this article I look at how celebrity chefs’ reputations have affected their restaurants to see whether putting your name on something is always a wise choice.

Jamie Oliver

As well as being one of the nation’s most famous chefs, I think it’s fair to say Jamie Oliver is also one of the most polarising. A household name around the country, Oliver was declared ‘Britain’s favourite chef’ after recent research found that he has spent 18 years of his career on Amazon’s bestselling books chart. However, in a recent interview Oliver revealed he was so hated early in his career he “got chased and punched a few times,” and received “loads of abuse.”

 This divisive personality, on top of recent scandals like his inaccurately named Jerk Rice, are perhaps to blame for the drastic slump in profits Oliver’s restaurant chain, Jamie’s Italian, received over the past year. In fact, not only was Oliver’s chain forced to close a dozen outlets in February, they reported almost £20m in loss last year. Oliver himself even had to inject almost £13m into the brand in order to save it from bankruptcy.

It concerns me with a business like this that once Oliver stops being able to, or willing to, pump money into the brand to save it, the sinking ship will take down all of its passengers, not just him. His career has grown around him being polarizing, but is it fair that this impacts his staff?

Papa John

A currently on-going legal battle with one of the world’s largest pizza chains, Papa John, demonstrates a worst-case scenario. The renowned pizza chain created in 1984 by “Papa” John Schnatter is currently in the process of attempting to exile Papa John himself from the business. It was reported earlier this year that Schnatter used a racial slur in a training call which caused his media company to cut ties with the pizza chain.

After this call, Schnatter stepped down as chairman of the board. Since then, he has filed a lawsuit against the company after he claims they failed to allow him access to business records. He also describes the company as taking an “unexplained and heavy-handed” method of dealing with proceedings. Even with the legal battle still in progress, Papa John continues to report losses with rumours of a buyout starting to circle.

This just goes to show how messy the fallout can be after a misdemeanour, even when the company is working to distance itself from the name behind the brand.

Gordon Ramsay

On the other side of the spectrum, Gordon Ramsay is an example of a celebrity chef-owned restaurant going well. All around the world, Ramsay owns a range of highly-regarded restaurants and bars, which continue to grow in profits and popularity. Over his career, Ramsay has never had a major scandal, and although he has come under fire for small incidents like driving the wrong way down a one-way street, it’s fair to say he has kept a clean record as far as his public image goes.

Despite being known for his rude language and belligerent demeanour, Ramsay’s positive public image means his restaurants continue to thrive under his name. In fact, rumour has it he is looking to expand his repertoire and open even more restaurants in the US. This just goes to show that with the right name and an admirable image behind your brand, anything is possible.

However, I personally think that restaurants may benefit from their namesake celebrity chef working more as a silent partner endorsing the business, rather than being the primary selling point. If things turn sour or the media gets a hold of a scandal, the risks for the staff and even the celebrities themselves seem incredibly high, with positive news stories only having a fraction of the impact as a negative story does.