“I was a bit holier than thou” – Jamie Oliver on Jamie’s Italian franchise collapse

He’s captivated Australian audiences for over a decade, but now the ‘Naked Chef’ has finally bared all about the failings of his embattled Jamie’s Italian franchise.

Best-selling author, restauranteur and chef, Jamie Oliver brought the successful Jamie’s Italian franchise to Australian shores in 2011, with then-operator Keystone at the franchisor helm.

However, in 2016 it was announced that Keystone had gone under, prompting Oliver to return to Australia in an effort to re-establish the ailing chain.

In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday, Oliver discussed the buy-back period and the company’s struggle to identify a conclusive market.

“I went in and saved on the first kind of trouble that we had with Keystone,” Oliver said.

“Which was obviously a shame because they were being run beautifully. They were great restaurants, but we got dragged down with the nightclub scenario.”

When prompted if Sydney’s strict lockout laws had been a major contributor in the failings of Keystone’s liquor venues, Oliver responded, “That’s the reality of what happened”.

Oliver reportedly pumped millions of dollars into the franchise, buying back all Australian outlets under The Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group (Australia) Pty Ltd name, however the move was plagued by continuing reports of underpayment and rising debt overseas.

In January, Oliver’s company announced it would close almost half of its U.K. branches, resulting in the loss of 450 jobs with reports indicating the company was $130 million in debt, with unpaid staff wages accounting for $4 million.

Locally, the franchise struggled to maintain a meaningful place in the tough Australian restaurant scene, which Oliver suggests has forced him to re-evaluate what diners really want.

“They all really want a good pizza and I’m like: ‘No, no, you get pizza at a pizzeria, that’s what happens in Italy.’ And the truth is, they don’t give a s**t,” Oliver said.

“They want what they want so I’ve had to take a humble pill. I was a bit holier than thou.”

In April, the Australian arm finally succumbed to outside pressures, announcing it had gone into voluntary administration, forming a partnership with Brisbane-based Hallmark Group.

A spokesperson for Jamie Oliver Group said the Hallmark deal brought with it an opportunity to rebuild the chain’s reputation, with the potential for further network expansion.

“The team brings a huge amount of experience and passion for our brand, from collaborating with the key suppliers to our food philosophy, and we look forward to working with them as they develop the Jamie’s Italian restaurant offering across Australia,” the spokesman said.

Hallmark said far from closing the remaining restaurants, they would be looking for new sites.

Jamie’s currently holds venues in Sydney’s CBD, Parramatta, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.