New Wolseley owner accuses co-founder of causing ‘last resort’ sale

The Thai hotel group that won full control of London’s Wolseley and Delaunay restaurants last week has accused their original co-founder Jeremy King of refusing its offer to recapitalise the business, leaving it with no option but to launch a “last resort” sale.

Minor Hotel Group became outright owners of Corbin & King, which owns the two restaurants and seven others, last Friday after a fraught late-night auction. Minor said that King appointed insolvency practitioners to value the business early in the pandemic without Minor’s knowledge, a move confirmed by a person close to Corbin & King’s board. At the time, Minor owned 74 per cent of the company.

Minor said it had forgiven £38mn of loans to Corbin & King for 20 months as it tried to persuade King to agree to a recapitalisation that involved King relinquishing some of his operational control. It said it put Corbin & King into administration in January as a measure of “last resort” after failing to reach any agreement.

“We tried to work out many solutions but [King] continuously refused,” Dillip Rajakarier, Minor’s chief executive said in an interview. “He didn’t want to accept cash,” from Minor to recapitalise the business, Rajakarier added.

Jeremy King did not respond to requests for comment.

The nine restaurants in the Corbin & King group, which also include Soutine in St John’s Wood and Colbert on Sloane Square, have become London stalwarts since King and his partner Chris Corbin established the Wolseley in 2003. Diners have included Joan Collins and the Beckhams, while Lucien Freud dined most nights at the Wolseley until his death in 2011.

King and Corbin left the business immediately after last week’s auction. Minor’s campaign to take full control of the company resulted in a bid of almost £70mn for the business including debt, according to two people with knowledge of the process.

Rajakarier said he had the “utmost respect for Jeremy” and he hoped customers would continue to support Corbin & King. But King’s departure has caused widespread disappointment among staff and in the London industry. One waiter described the change in ownership as “disheartening”, while another said teams were “walking on eggshells”.

Minor bought its majority stake in Corbin & King for £58mn in 2017.

Rajakarier said that Minor had given King “pretty much a free hand” when it first invested but King’s insistence that the company should continue to invest in new sites during the pandemic when Minor was looking to cut costs across its business, which includes more than 520 hotels in 56 countries, prompted a series of disputes.

“London was in a shutdown . . . for us it was important for the business to survive that we needed to control the cash flow,” Rajakarier said.

King and other former Corbin & King directors are still engaged in legal proceedings with Minor following the sale, a person with knowledge of the dispute said.

King has previously said that he disagreed with Minor’s cost-cutting measures and its plans to open Corbin & King restaurants in its hotels. He also said he had been in talks with the US investment firm Knighthead for more than a year, in an effort to bring in new investors, and ultimately tried to buy the business with them.

Corbin & King currently has three sites under development in London, which should be finished this year, Minor said.

Following their completion and once the business was “stable”, Rajakarier said Minor planned a targeted rollout of Corbin & King brands in markets such as New York and Hong Kong. “The restaurants are very iconic and we have to make sure the restaurants stay iconic . . . you can’t have 10 or 15 Wolseley’s. It’s not like a fast-food chain.”