Page last updated at 12:51 GMT, Sunday, 8 February 2009

Top chef closes four restaurants

Antony Worrall Thompson
It makes me cry. It is appalling, to be honest... I am furious that the banks didn't support me
Antony Worrall Thompson

Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson has had to shut four restaurants, leaving 60 of his staff redundant.

He visited the businesses on Friday to tell employees their jobs no longer existed due to falling sales and problems in securing bank loans.

The TV chef, 57, turned to personal savings to help keep control of two other restaurants and a delicatessen.

He said he "experienced an unexpected but decisive fall in revenue across the businesses from September 2008".

His holding company, AWT Restaurants Ltd, went into administration last Friday.

"The decision to go into administration has not been taken lightly," he said in a statement released on Sunday.

"The company started in 1997 with Notting Grill launching in 2001 and since then we have all worked hard to build a loyal team of employees, grow the business and create solid relationships with our suppliers."

Mr Worrall Thompson, who lives with his wife Jacinta in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, said the decision was taken after he failed to raise Ł200,000 from his bank to tide over the firm.

'Unavoidable decision'

He said: "Even though November and December sales were down on the previous year, five of the seven businesses were profitable. However, the first quarter of the year is always a hard one in the hospitality business and additional funding was required to ease our continuing cash flow issues.

"Our request for funds has not been supported, making administration a difficult decision but an unavoidable one."

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday he said he was "furious" that he felt forced to tell staff - who he treats as a "big family" - they had to find work elsewhere. One had been with him since 1983.

"It makes me cry. It is just appalling... I am furious, to be honest, that the banks didn't support me," he added.

Jonathan Ross, Phil Vickery, Fern Britton, Antony Worrall Thompson and Rory McGrath
Appearing in a March 2000 episode of Celebrity Ready Steady Cook

Mr Worrall Thompson found fame through BBC programmes Food And Drink and Ready Steady Cook. In 1981, he opened his first restaurant in London - notable for only serving starters and puddings.

Since then, many of the restaurants he has been involved with have been heaped with accolades. He has won the Mouton Rothschild Menu Competition and the Meilleur Ouvrier de Grande Bretagne (MOGB) - the chef's Oscar.

The surviving restaurants are the Windsor Grill in Berkshire, and the Kew Grill in south-west London. Windsor Larder, a delicatessen, is also retained.

Mr Worrall Thompson said he could have saved his entire company by offering his home as a guarantee to the banks, but said that he wasn't willing to take such a "horrendous" risk.

He said: "We did a cash-flow forecast for the end of the year and it was fine.

Devastated

"But we needed looking after for the first four months of the year and the banks just didn't want to play, not without me giving horrendous personal guarantees that I wasn't prepared to do. I am getting to an age where I can't afford to lose my house."

A letter from Mr Worrall Thompson and business partner David Wilby was handed to staff on Friday.

Mr Worrall Thompson added: "Three or four [members of staff] won't get the full amount owed and I will pay that out of my own pocket. I am gutted. I have lost people I have worked with for eight or 10 years.

"We are dipping our hands into our pockets to buy two restaurants, but I can't afford to buy the rest.

"I don't need restaurants, what I want to do is support as many people as I can. You have to save something."

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