Jamie Oliver's young chefs' restaurant gets into a stew with losses of £1m

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The Independent Online

He was discovered toiling over a chopping board in the kitchen of a west London restaurant and shot to fame as the Naked Chef.

He was discovered toiling over a chopping board in the kitchen of a west London restaurant and shot to fame as the Naked Chef.

Now it seems that the spin-offs from "Jamie Oliver Plc" - a lucrative empire that includes glossy books, DVDs and cookery programmes shown worldwide - are keeping his culinary endeavours afloat.

Accounts published yesterday showed that Fifteen, Oliver's East London eatery- cum-training-ground for young chefs, has made losses of more than £1m and is being helped by loans from his management company. The balance sheet reveals operating losses of £611,000 for 2002, when the doors first opened in November, falling to £120,500 last year. Citing high start-up costs, accountants have put the total figure of losses so far to be set against future tax at £1.23m.

The figures come just months after the 70-seat Hoxton establishment, which serves modern British and Mediterranean cooking at around £50 per head, was savaged in customer reviews. But, Fifteen, whose teething troubles and kitchen tantrums, were revealed to millions in Channel 4's Jamie's Kitchen, is benefiting from loans of £1.7m from Sweet as Candy, the management company which handles Oliver the author, television personality and the face of Sainsbury's.

"Someone has got to fund the losses and he will have egg on his face if the restaurant has to close," said Chris Lane, an accountant with Kingston Smith who specialises in the restaurant trade. He said it was not possible to tell from the accounts whether the losses were due to a lack of "bums on seats" or excessive costs.

Other experts in the business of restaurant start-ups said there was nothing unusual in not turning a profit until the third year but said Fifteen may have been burdened by large staff numbers. Oliver employs a staff of around 70. Any future profits would be returned to his Cheeky Chaps charity to fund the continuing venture.

Amanda Afiya, managing editor of The Caterer, said: "Given its charitable status and the amount they are investing in training it's hard to compare to other restaurant businesses. It has been criticised for inconsistency and has had to increase staff numbers.

"People like the fact that it is non-profit making but they expect reasonable standards in service and good food." A spokesman for Fifteen said the restaurant's fortunes would improve this year, turning a profit of up to £400,000.

In September Harden's London Restaurants Guide reported "huge levels of dissatisfaction" among diners for food, service and ambience.

Fifteen appears to have bounced back and is fully booked for the next month at weekends with only "sporadic" availability for weekdays. A restaurant spokesman said: "We didn't open until November 2002 and so we only had two months' income. We are currently making a profit and having people through our doors saying how much they enjoy the food."