The owner of London’s Wolseley restaurant, a favorite haunt of celebrities and energy-hungry executives, was forced into administration by its majority shareholder amid a long-running dispute over control of the business during Covid.
Minor, the Thai hotel operator, said on Tuesday it had appointed administrators to oversee a recapitalization of Corbin & King, owner of iconic haunts including Delaunay and Brasserie Zedel as well as Wolseley, a former showroom of cars next to the Ritz on Piccadilly.
The move marks the latest clash in an ongoing row between the catering company and its biggest backer that began at the start of the pandemic over venue openings and staffing levels.
Minor said Corbin & King had been “unable to meet its financial obligations” and that despite Minor’s “repeated proposals to recapitalize the company”, its chief executive Jeremy King and other shareholders had refused. Minor had “no viable option but to appoint administrators”.
King, who founded Corbin & King with the purchase of the Wolseley in 2003 with partner Chris Corbin, quoted romantic poet William Blake when speaking to the Financial Times in response to the news: “A truth that is told with bad intention defeats all the lies you can invent.
“There is absolutely no need to go into administration, we are trading extremely well,” he added.
Corbin and King are renowned restaurateurs who have made a name for themselves at London’s upscale venues The Ivy and Le Caprice. Corbin & King restaurants counted pop star Victoria Beckham and actor Robert Downey Jr among their guests, while artist Lucian Freud dined at Wolseley almost every night before his death in 2011.
A source close to the restaurateur’s management, however, said Minor had only offered money to the company in exchange for King giving up his board position and stock ownership.
Minor said she could not comment on King’s position, but had offered “a number of commercially attractive expansion proposals” which King had blocked.
In a bid to oust Minor, Corbin & King held financing discussions with US investment fund Knighthead Capital Management. The negotiations were first reported by Sky News.
FRP Advisory, the directors appointed by Minor, were aware of Knighthead’s interest in the business, the person close to Corbin & King said.
This is the second time the group has discussed financial support with the little-known Knighthead, which has just reaped the rewards of the exit from bankruptcy of the car rental company Hertz. He first held talks with the investment firm in 2017 before Minor bought the majority stake from private equity group Graphite Capital.
The appointment of administrators comes on the same day Corbin & King was in court suing insurer Axa to cover losses it suffered during repeated pandemic shutdowns.
The two-day case is being watched closely by other businesses who are considering their own legal action against insurers over business interruption policies after March 2020 lockdowns forced pubs and restaurants to close and unable to access their premises.
The High Court is being asked to examine the scope of Corbin & King’s so-called denial of access insurance cover – which compensates businesses if their sites are closed by a statutory body due to a local ‘danger’ – and whether Corbin & King’s claims are limited to just £250,000 payable by Axa for all premises – or whether there is a limit of £250,000 for each set of premises, as Corbin & King claims.
Stonegate, owner of the Slug and Lettuce and Walkabout chains, is suing three insurers MS Amlin, Liberty Mutual and Zurich – for a total of £845million in a dispute over the extent of its insurance cover for losses related to the pandemic.