Jessen & Co, the owner of Chelsea's Italian restaurant Ilia, has sold the site to the restaurant chain Obikà Mozzarella Bar blaming rising rent and rates in a small venue for the closure of the high-end establishment.
Ilia in Draycott Avenue, South Kensington will re-open in mid-June as the latest UK site for Obikà after Soren Jessen, owner of Jessen & Co, decided to sell the restaurant to the Italian chain.
Speaking to BigHospitality, Jessen said the size of the site had proven difficult and the restaurant needed to expand beyond the current 65-covers; an expansion that would have been too big an undertaking for the business so the offer from Obikà had been too good to turn down. Despite being a small restaurant, Jessen said the rent and rates had continued to rise to a difficult level at which to operate.
The site was formerly French restaurant Papillion but was rebranded by the owners in 2010, however Jessen said the concept had been a success and could well return in a new location at a later date.
"It was a very good, solid little neighbourhood Italian restaurant. We had a very loyal local following and people loved it so it was a shame from that point of view. It was difficult to charge fine-dining prices in that area and with a small 65-cover restaurant," he said.
Referring to the new owners, Jessen added: "What they are going to do is enlarge it with another 30 covers to make it a 100-cover restaurant then you can trade at much more reasonable prices."
Jessen argued if Ilia did return it would need to be in a more central location as the neighbourhood area of Chelsea and South Kensington was less suited to fine-dining restaurants that relied on a strong lunch trade. Alternatively Obikà would be able to deliver a smaller, more precise café or bistro-style menu at a lower cost and would attract a larger lunchtime crowd.
Obikà Mozzarella Bar
Speaking to BigHospitality, David Haimes, group chief executive of Obikà Mozzarella Bar, said the company had been looking to expand beyond the first UK site in Canary Wharf and had previously marked Chelsea and South Kensington out as target trade areas and locations.
Haimes said the refurbishment of the venue would expand the size of the site in a way that would not have been possible with the previous concept.
"Our cuisine doesn't require as big a kitchen space as fine dining so therefore we can cut down the size of the kitchen and make the rest of the space available for seating. We will have a seating area on the ground floor and a seating area on the first floor," he said.
The Obikà menu is designed around Buffalo Mozzarella which is available with a number of accompaniments including tomatoes, artichokes and Parma ham. The restaurant chain was founded in Rome by Silvio Ursini but was originally inspired by Tokyo Sushi bars. The business now boasts 18 chains around the world.
Haimes said the concept would remain unchanged and the UK plans for the business, as reported by BigHospitality in December last year , remained on track with deals being finalised on another two London sites.
1 Lombard Street
Jessen, a former banker, revealed the focus for him was now brasserie and bar 1 Lombard Street located close to Bank station in the City of London. The site will undergo a full refurbishment and relaunch with a new menu in May.
Last week BigHospitality spoke to the owner of Blummyz, a new fine dining Italian restaurant and bar on the border of Chelsea and South Kensington, which opened its doors last month, but had already had to fight off claims from the restaurant’s executive head chef that it was ‘too expensive’ .