The Demise of Casual Dining in UK

Carol Matlack wrote . . . . . . .

Since he burst onto the global dining scene two decades ago, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has captured foodies’ hearts with his unpretentious, boyish style, easy-to-follow recipes, and energetic campaigns to tax sugary drinks and make school lunches more nutritious. His restaurants, though, aren’t getting much love.

Oliver has closed 20 of his 49 U.K. eateries since January 2017. His Jamie’s Italian chain is £47 million ($65 million) in debt, owes £14 million to suppliers, and this winter closed a dozen British locations. Union Jacks, a group of four pizzerias Oliver launched in 2011, shuttered its last outlet in 2017. In January, his two Barbecoa barbecue joints were placed in receivership; one has since closed.

It’s a humbling turn for Oliver, whose Naked Chef TV series catapulted him to fame in 1999. (He didn’t cook in the buff—the name referred to his preference for simple, wholesome food—but the title helped make the show a hit.) Today, his £165 million-a-year brand encompasses everything from cooking classes and catering to barbecue grills and kitchen utensils. His latest cookbook, 5 Ingredients: Quick and Easy Food, was Britain’s nonfiction best-seller last year.

Oliver is a victim of a shakeout that’s hitting Britain’s casual-dining business after clobbering the likes of Applebee’s, TGI Friday’s, and Ruby Tuesday in the U.S. Just since January, upmarket British chain Byron Hamburgers and the Italian-themed Prezzo and Strada have all announced restructuring plans. With weak consumer spending and a saturated market, more than a third of the top 100 groups in the business are losing money, according to London accounting firm UHY Hacker Young. Increases in the minimum wage are boosting labor costs, while the 2016 Brexit vote has pushed the pound lower and sparked inflation, putting a dent in consumer spending. Brits now eat 1 in 10 meals outside the home, down from 1 in 8 five years ago, according to MCA Insight, a food research group in London.

Yet the number of eateries grew from 61,400 in 2010 to more than 83,000 in 2016, government statistics show. The increase has been driven chiefly by “fast, large-scale restaurant brand rollouts,” often financed by private equity investors who push for explosive expansion in pursuit of a quick return, says David Chubb, a specialist in distressed companies at accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in London. “The trouble is, there are only so many good sites, and a lot of chains are doing the same thing.”

In such an environment, a restaurateur can’t afford to get things wrong—and Oliver clearly did. His first Jamie’s Italian opened in Oxford in 2008 to good reviews, but diners and critics soon started grousing about mediocre food and service. “Jamie, get out, you can do better than this dreadful, truly dreadful, Italian chain!” was the comment in the 2017 edition of Harden’s Best U.K. Restaurants, which gave Jamie’s Italian its lowest possible rating. “Most celebrity chefs have a successful restaurant, and then the cash-ins come later,” says Peter Harden, the guide’s co-editor. Oliver, by contrast, “had a meteoric rise in terms of TV,” then opened his restaurants, with hired managers at the helm.

A key misstep at Jamie’s Italian was a 2015 decision to lay off about a dozen midlevel managers responsible for quality control, says a person with direct knowledge of the situation. After losing £9.4 million in 2016, the chain brought in a new management team and hired restructuring specialist AlixPartners LLP to develop a turnaround plan. The company declined to make executives available for interviews, but said in a statement that the retrenchment will help Jamie’s get back to growth and profitability.

While struggling in Britain, Oliver has been expanding abroad. His group has 52 foreign outlets, including Jamie’s Deli cafes in European airports, pizzerias in Hungary and India, and Jamie’s Italian in dozens of locales from Portugal to Qatar. Almost all are operated by franchisees, which complicates quality control. “Stay away,” a customer at a Jamie’s Italian outlet in the Oslo airport wrote on TripAdvisor in early March. Of 90 published reviews of the outlet, 49 rated it “terrible” or “poor.”

Chains that stay on top of their game will be able to ride out the turmoil, says Simon Stenning, executive director of researcher MCA. Casual Dining Group Ltd., whose brands include Bella Italia and Café Rouge, and Azzurri Group, which runs the ASK Italian and Zizzi chains, have continued to expand, he says. “They’re constantly evolving their offer, changing the lighting or the crockery or the glassware, to stay relevant,” Stenning says. The ambience in Oliver’s restaurants, by contrast, “is getting a bit tired.”

Source: Bloomberg

Italian-style Hearty Soup with Vegetables and Beans


1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 (540-mL) can navy beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 (796-mL) can diced tomatoes
2 cups packed chopped kale
2 cups homemade or store-bought croutons
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup grated parmesan


  1. Heat a large pot over medium, add oil, then onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.
  2. Add broth, water, beans and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in kale and continue simmering until kale is just tender, about 5 more minutes.
  4. Ladle soup into 4 bowls. Sprinkle with croutons, basil and parmesan before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Chatelaine magazine

In Pictures: Sushi Gelato from Gelarto in New York City

Well-Done Meat May Not Be Good for Your Blood Pressure

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . .

You might think twice about how you want that steak cooked.

People who like their steak well-done instead of rare might face a slightly increased risk of high blood pressure, a preliminary study suggests.

The study, of more than 100,000 U.S. adults, found the odds of high blood pressure were a bit higher among people who liked their meat grilled, broiled or roasted, versus those who favored more temperate cooking methods.

The same was true of people who were partial to well-done meat. Compared with fans of rarer meat, they were 15 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure over 12 to 16 years.

The findings do not prove cause and effect, researchers said.

But they do add to evidence suggesting people should not only limit the amount of meat in their diets — but also pay attention to how they cook it.

“Our results imply that both reducing the amount of meat — especially red meat — and avoiding the use of open-flame or high-temperature cooking methods may potentially aid in [high blood pressure] prevention,” said lead researcher Gang Liu, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

What’s wrong with a grilled steak?

Research suggests that cooking to the point of “charring” is the main issue, said Linda Van Horn, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association who was not involved in the study.

The process produces chemicals that are not normally present in the body, explained Van Horn, who is also a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Those chemicals include heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

According to Liu, lab studies suggest the chemicals can trigger inflammation within the body, which could contribute to high blood pressure and other health problems.

Meanwhile, studies have found that people who eat a lot of well-done meat tend to face increased risks of certain cancers, as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The new study is the first to look for a connection to high blood pressure, Liu said.

High blood pressure can lead to stroke.

Liu was scheduled to present the findings Wednesday at a heart association meeting, in New Orleans. Studies presented at meetings are generally considered preliminary until they have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The findings are based on three long-term health studies of nearly 104,000 U.S. health professionals in total.

All were meat eaters, and were free of high blood pressure and heart disease at the outset, when they gave detailed information about their diets and lifestyle habits. Over the next 12 to 16 years, more than 37,000 study participants developed high blood pressure.

It turned out that the risk was higher among those who favored high-temperature cooking or well-done meat, Liu said.

People who grilled, broiled or roasted their meat more than 15 times a month had a 17 percent greater risk of high blood pressure, versus people who used those cooking methods fewer than four times a month. “Meat” included beef, poultry and fish.

The findings were similar when the researchers compared fans of well-done meat with those who usually took their meat rare.

Finally, Liu’s team estimated people’s HAA intake, based on their diet details. And those in the top 20 percent for HAA intake had a 17 percent greater risk of high blood pressure than those in the bottom 20 percent.

There could, of course, be other differences between people who favor well-done meat and those who opt for rare.

But Liu said his team accounted for many of those factors, including overall diet, exercise habits, smoking and body weight.

So how should people cook their meat?

According to Liu, pan-frying and boiling — at “moderate temperatures and duration” — seem like potentially healthier choices.

Van Horn agreed that avoiding charred meat is a prudent move. She also stressed, though, that overall diet and lifestyle habits are critical to having healthy blood pressure numbers.

“We have so many recommendations for lowering blood pressure that studies have shown to be effective,” Van Horn said. “Reduce your sodium intake. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Get regular exercise. Maintain a healthy weight.

“Limiting well-done meat,” she said, “is just one measure of many.”

Source: HealthDay

Depression Linked to Common Heart Rhythm Disorder

Depression may increase the risk for atrial fibrillation, the most common heart rhythm disorder that can lead to blood clot formation and stroke, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2018, a premier global exchange of the latest advances in population based cardiovascular science for researchers and clinicians.

Participants in the study who scored highest on a clinical screening test for depression as well as those taking anti-depressant medication had more than a 30 percent higher risk for developing atrial fibrillation than people with normal test scores and those not taking medications for depression.

The results suggest an association between two very common disorders, a finding that demands further research and greater awareness among both clinicians and patients, researchers said.

“Our findings identify a large portion of Americans who may be at an increased risk for developing atrial fibrillation and who may benefit from more targeted efforts to prevent this arrhythmia,” said study lead investigator Parveen Garg, M.D., M.P.H, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “If our findings are affirmed in future studies, especially those that formally assess for clinical depression, then we will need to see if treating depression may, in fact, lower the risk for atrial fibrillation.”

The findings stem from the national Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) study, which involved more than 6,600 people from various ethnic groups. Participants, average age 62, had no known heart disease at the onset of the study and were followed for a median of 13 years.

Exactly how depression disrupts heart function remains unclear, researchers said, but several possible mechanisms have been suggested. These include increased levels of inflammation as well as elevated levels of certain hormones that directly or indirectly interfere with the heart’s ability to stay in a normal rhythm.

The new findings add further credence to the notion that mental health and heart health are closely intertwined, underscoring previous research showing an association between depression and heart disease.

“Clinicians and patients should be aware that depression has been shown in several studies to be a risk factor for heart disease in general and, in this study, for atrial fibrillation as well,” Garg said. “Treating depression is important for many reasons including cardiovascular health.”

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the upper two chambers of the heart begin to quiver chaotically, compromising their ability to propel blood into the two lower chambers of the heart. When blood pools in the upper chambers, it can lead to clot formation, which in turn can cause a stroke. Untreated atrial fibrillation doubles the risk of heart-related deaths and is associated with a 5-fold increased risk for stroke.

More than 16 million adults in the United States suffer from depression, according to estimates from the National Institutes of Health. Atrial fibrillation, the most common heart-rhythm disorder, affects some 2.7 million Americans, according to the American Heart Association’s 2018 Heart and Stroke Statistical Update.

Source: American Heart Association

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