December 4, 2023

Business International

Business International For Your Health

Corbin & King co-founder loses control of The Wolseley

Thai hotel group Minor has won control of London’s Wolseley and Delaunay restaurants after a bitter dispute over pandemic-related debts with Jeremy King, the co-founder of the group that owns them.

Minor said on Friday that it had won an auction for Corbin & King, which owns the Wolseley, the Delaunay and seven other restaurants and had been in administration. Minor previously owned 74 per cent of the company while King retained operational control.

Dillip Rajakarier, Minor’s group chief executive, said that he was “delighted” Minor’s offer had been accepted and added: “We can now look forward to building on the existing strong foundations to drive growth in the UK and internationally”.

The winning bid valued the company, including debt, at more than £60mn, according to two people involved in the process. One said the final offer was closer to £70mn.

King, who had the backing of the US investment fund Knighthead Capital Management, declined to comment.

In an email to clients on Friday morning, King said: “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. It remains to be seen how the transition will be effected”.

Richard Caring, billionaire owner of the Ivy chain, and the Handa family, who own the hospitality Cairn Group and the Richoux café chain, had also registered an interest in the business during the administration.

The Wolseley and other restaurants in the Corbin & King group, including the Delaunay on Aldwych and Soutine in St John’s Wood, have long attracted a celebrity clientele. Diners have included actress Joan Collins, restaurant critic Giles Coren and the artist Lucien Freud, who dined at the Wolseley every night until his death in 2011. Many customers had hoped that King, who is regularly seen in the restaurants, would retain control of the business.

Nick Jones, chief executive of Soho House-owner Membership Collective Group and a regular Wolseley patron, said ahead of the auction that not having King involved would be “a massive thump in the stomach for those restaurants”.

The auction marks the end of a fierce fight for control of the brasseries that burst into the open when Minor pushed the company into administration in January. It claimed that King and other directors had refused to agree to a recapitalisation of the business after it failed to repay £38mn in loans owed to Minor.

Minor, according to a source close to the Corbin & King board, had made the recapitalisation conditional upon King relinquishing his control over the business’ operations — something that King had always opposed.

In February, Corbin & King successfully challenged Minor’s attempt to prevent King bringing Knighthead on board to refinance the loans.

King had been in talks with Knighthead for more than a year in an effort to oust Minor from its ownership of the company following a series of disagreements over the way the business was run during the pandemic and Minor’s attempts to rapidly expand the group across its international network of hotels.

Minor first bought the majority stake in Corbin & King from the private equity group Graphite Capital for £58mn in 2017. It operates more than 3,300 restaurants worldwide including branches of the high end Japanese-style chain Benihana as well as NH Hotels.

The hotelier said that it would now focus on growing the business “without the involvement of Messrs Corbin and King. We wish them success in their future endeavours”.

Additional reporting by Robert Smith