British chef Gordon Ramsay is well-known to TV audiences as a prolific and successful media personality.
But the 48-year-old is an equally adept businessman. In a relatively short span of 17 years, Ramsay has opened 49 restaurants across locations as diverse as Dubai in UAE to Ennis Kerry in Ireland. Twenty-three out of that total number are now closed, providing Ramsay with a success rate of 47 percent. (See also: Celebrity Chef Empires).
But mere numbers do not provide the full story behind Ramsay's colorful ascent.
The Rise to Success
Ramsay grew up in a hardscrabble neighborhood in Scotland. His father was an alcoholic womanizer who was never present, and the family moved around quite a bit before settling in Stratford-Upon-Avon. He had aspirations to become a soccer player, but a severe accident on the field during his teenage years put that ambition to rest.
Instead, Ramsay focused his energies on cooking. After graduation from a local polytechnic, Ramsay worked at several restaurants in London before landing at Harvey's, an upscale establishment, where the head chef was Marco Pierre White, Britain's superstar chef at the time. After a couple years of working, White introduced Ramsay to two Italian businessmen, who became Ramsay's partners in his first restaurant venture. In this enterprise, Ramsay took a 25 percent stake.
Founded in 1993, Aubergine served middle-of-the-road French cuisine. It spawned another venture by the same trio, L'Oranger at St. James Road. Together, both restaurants earned a total of three Michelin stars. However, Ramsay did not earn much during this stint and received a dividend of approximately £15,000 only once. His main source of income was working as a food consultant to a supermarket chain.
After a series of disagreements with his business partners over the restaurants' future, Ramsay instigated a mutiny by walking out with his colleagues in 1998. Two weeks later, he started his his first restaurant – Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road – with the help of a £1.5 million bank loan. He also started kickstarted a television career by allowing BBC cameras into his kitchen for “Boiling Point,” a show that charted his daily fortunes in the kitchen.
Besides providing much-needed free publicity to his restaurant, the show helped cultivate Ramsay's polarizing but popular image of an abrasive personality. In his autobiography, Ramsay writes that the restaurant's phones were “smoking” after the show was aired. Half of callers were disgusted with his foul-mouthed and boorish behavior, while the other half were impressed by his passion for perfection and sought reservations at the new place.
Soon after, John Ceriale from Blackstone, a private equity group that owned a slew of restaurants around the world, contacted him to manage a restaurant at Claridge's, the historic London hotel. Ramsay calculated that “a successful breakfast operation would pay for the rent, leaving income from lunch and dinner to us” and agreed. Before opening, he refashioned the interiors and menu.The results went down well with the public, and the restaurant boasted over 500 calls and 300 faxes in the first week. The number of guests had risen to1,500 by the second week.
Ramsay's subsequent ascent in the restaurant business was rapid. He rode the economic boom during the early part of the 2000s by opening a series of restaurants across geographies in partnership with hotels and Blackstone. Simultaneously, he capitalized on his growing television fame to garner clientele for his restaurants. For example, the Ramsay team's move into the historic Connaught hotel was filmed by the BBC in their documentary series Trouble at the Top.
Change in Fortunes
There was, indeed, trouble but not at the top. Ramsay's business model of both owning and operating restaurants hemorrhaged cash. For example, his restaurant in Paris lost $245,000 monthly. Amaryllis in Scotland was the first to fail, losing £480,000 in three years of operations. Others followed suit. At one point, the losses became so great that an auditor even recommended that Gordon Ramsay Holdings – the parent operation – file for bankruptcy. (See Also: Celebrity Business Busts).
But Ramsay took corrective steps. First, he changed his business model from one based on ownership to that of licensing. Second, he sold off unprofitable operations. Third, he cut costs by paring back staff and expensive menu items.
Even as his fortunes declined in the restaurant business, they soared in the media industry where he perfected the persona of a bullying chef on numerous TV programs on both sides of the Atlantic. According to reports, Ramsay receives $225,000 per episode. In 2013, he made $22.6 million from his media deals alone.
The Bottom Line
Despite his public failures, Ramsay has an enviable track record in the restaurant business. He owes his success to hard work, rolling with the punches, and an ability to change with the times.