By Sarah Shearman
LONDON, May 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The head of a restaurant in southwest England set up by Jamie Oliver to train unemployed young people as chefs vowed on Tuesday to "keep the light burning" after the celebrity chef's restaurant chain went into administration.
Fifteen Cornwall is a social enterprise - a business that seeks to do good - and operates under a franchise, meaning it is not part of the chain now in administration.
Its chief executive Matthew Thomson described the closure of a number of restaurants with the loss of 1,000 jobs as a "tragedy" and said it was a "very, very challenging time" for the industry.
"Jamie is still doing some fantastic work and it is a real tragedy to hear about his restaurants today. We are committed to his vision still operating the same model he gave us, 13 years ago," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The venture was set up in 2006, four years after Oliver founded his first restaurant, Fifteen London, with a high-profile TV documentary charting the highs and lows of the endeavour.
Fifteen London reinvested its profits in its training scheme, which helped 500 hundred apprentices, several of whom went on to become Michelin-starred chefs.
The model of hiring and training disadvantaged people typically excluded from the workforce has been replicated by many other social enterprises since, solving a range of problems from homelessness to hunger.
With people eating out less in Britain, increased competition and a squeeze on margins due to wage increases, Thomson said the past two years have been "very hard" for the business, which has trained about 130 chefs.
Two other Fifteen restaurants were launched in Amsterdam and Melbourne, but both have since closed.
Thomson said he hoped to keep the brand going in Cornwall. The combined turnover of Fifteen Cornwall and the Cornwall Food Foundation which owns it was 3.7 million in 2018, with the profits going towards training and community food projects, he said.
"We have no reason to drop the brand and are utterly committed and if we end up being the only Jamie Oliver restaurant in Britain we'll be incredibly proud of that," he said.
"We hope there is a way through these dark days – we'll do anything we can to keep the light burning."
Oliver said he was "deeply saddened by this outcome" which has left about 1,000 people without jobs. Administrators KPMG did not disclose how many of those were at Fifteen London.
A spokeswoman for Jamie Oliver's business group declined to give further details.
(Reporting by Sarah Shearman @Shearmans, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)
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