Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson was in the news again last week – blasting the banks for their refusal to put up £200,000 to tide his business over cashflow problems during the difficult first quarter of the year.
His holding company, AWT Restaurants Ltd, went into administration on 6 February as a result. Wozza spent that day going to the four restaurants and two pubs slated for closure to explain to his staff – many of whom have been working for him for years – why they were losing their jobs.
He’s not entirely out of business. He put up his own personal money to buy back two of his restaurants and a delicatessen.
However, he was hopping mad at the banks for refusing to back restaurants which he “knew” would be firmly on their feet again by December. He was quoted as saying, “It makes me cry. It is just appalling… I am furious, to be honest, that the banks didn’t support me.”
Some have been quick to pour scorn on AWT’s complaints on the basis that if he doesn’t think a business is strong enough to put his own money into it, then why should he expect the banks to? Others point out, correctly, that AWT and his company are separate legal entities and that there’s a big difference between a company making an investment and a private individual. Worrall Thompson himself says he’s too old (he’s currently 57) to put his family home at risk.
This isn’t the first time that Wozza’s burnt his fingers on a business venture. Back in 2000 he, Gordon Ramsay and Gary Rhodes were involved in a £10 million web-based enterprise called foodoo.com. Despite his scathing comments about people going into web ventures without proper backing (he invested £5 million) it bombed in November 2000.
I’m not sure whom to feel most sorry for. Certainly not the banks; they’ve played fast and loose with other people’s money, and – even with mergers and the cutback in business – their directors are still paying themselves bonuses they haven’t earned. So if they’re getting a tongue-lashing, that’s the least they deserve. And probably not Wozza either; he’s still got his house and some business interests (including the three businesses he’s just bought up personally) to keep the money coming in. But on the other hand 60 of his staff are still being made redundant, through no fault of their own. And then there’s all his creditors, which presumably includes many small suppliers – if the company’s gone into administration, does that mean the debts owed to them get written off, or discounted to some derisory rate like 10p in the pound?