Jeremy King, the famous restaurateur behind the Wolseley and the Delaunay, has been ousted from the fine dining group he founded in 1981.
King, who with his business partner Chris Corbin launched and ran many of London’s top restaurants including the Wolseley next to the Ritz on Piccadilly, the Delaunay on the Strand and Brasserie Zédel in Piccadilly, announced on Friday he had lost a battle to buy his venture , Corbin & King, out of administration.
The bidding war was won by the American-born Thai billionaire William Heinecke’s Minor International, which is understood to have paid more than £60m in an auction that took place early on Friday morning. Minor had previously owned 74% of Corbin & King, and had forced the company into administration.
In an email to regular diners – including many FTSE 100 chief executives as well as celebrities such as David and Victoria Beckham, Joan Collins, Nigella Lawson, Keira Knightley, and Paul Smith – King said he had tried to buy the restaurants but lost out to Minor.
“We took part in the auction to try to buy the business and assets of Corbin & King that we didn’t already own, including, of course, all the restaurants. Regrettably, that attempt failed and Minor Hotel Group was the successful bidder, buying the entire business,” he said in the email.
“As a result, I no longer have any equity interest in the business, although for the time being, I remain an employee. I assume Minor will take immediate control of the restaurants.”
Dillip Rajakarier, the chief executive of Minor International, said: “Given the global appeal of Corbin & King Ltd’s iconic portfolio of brands, it is no surprise that competition for the business was so strong.
“We are delighted that our offer was accepted, and we can now look forward to building on the existing strong foundations to drive growth in the UK and internationally. We have exciting growth plans for the business and are delighted to begin on this journey.”
A spokesman for Minor said it had “the utmost respect” for Corbin and King but added that it was “now time to focus on growing the business in the UK and internationally without the involvement of Messrs Corbin and King”. Officially, King continues as chief executive of the company. Corbin serves as a director.
Jay Rayner, the Observer’s restaurant critic, said it would be “madness” to continue running the restaurants without the company’s founders.
“Jeremy King and Chris Corbin are consummate restaurateurs, the best in the business, and the fact they have lost control of the brilliant group that carries their name is very sad indeed,” said Rayner, who reviewed many of the restaurants’ openings and subsequently became a freelance employee because his jazz ensemble had a monthly residency at Zédel.
“The only logic to Minor International wanting to buy up the company and oust the very people who have made it what it is, is the belief that somehow things need to change, which is madness. The Wolseley, Delaunay, Brasserie Zédel and the rest are perfect as they are.”
Rayner said that as well as running delightful restaurants, Corbin and King were well known for taking good care of their staff. “Their innovative and forward-thinking programs enabling older people and parents with small children to work flexibly in the hospitality business have made them a model for the rest of the industry.”
Minor bought a 74% stake in Corbin & King for £58m in 2017 and earlier this year forced the company into administration, warning it was “unable to meet its financial obligations”. It found itself at loggerheads with King, who serves as Corbin & King’s chief executive, claiming the founder had repeatedly rejected “proposals to recapitalize the company”.
King’s Rolodex must rate as one of London’s most extensive, as his restaurants have been – and still are – popular with both FTSE 100 chief executives having power breakfasts as well as members of royalty and celebrities enjoying themselves.
Joan Collins has described the Wolseley’s Souffle Suisse as one of the best dishes she has ever eaten, and Lucian Freud was known to dine at the restaurant most nights before his death in 2011.