Is The Wolseley Being EVICTED? After Racking Up £1m In Unpaid Bills, The Landlord Wants The Keys Back…

It’s one of London’s most cherished restaurants. The Wolseley is the perfect breakfasting spot, a place where the people-watching is as enjoyable as the menu and it’s a restaurant that’s spawned more sibling superstars than the Kardashians, including Colbert, Café Zedel and the Delauney. But now the jewel in the Corbin & King crown is looking shaky. Because the Wolseley might be about to be evicted…

The Wolseley‘s landlord is suing for £1m in back-rent, and threatening to evict their famous tenants if they can’t pony up the reddies, and quick. The case looks set to get pretty fruity, and could see the disappearance of one of London’s finest eateries, but also highlights the plight of London’s restaurants as landlords look to recoup their pandemic losses.

The extraordinary revelation came from the Financial Times, which reported that the Wolseley owes their landlord, STJ Investments, just under £1 million in unpaid rent, debts accrued over lockdown.

Just under £1 million in unpaid rent...

“The landlord’s avowed intent was to get every single penny of rent,” Jeremy King, Corbin & King’s chief exec explained to the FT​, continuing “Our argument was, we will pay what is due but we will not pay [the debts] for the pandemic period”

Sounds fair, lockdown saw the Wolseley follow the rest of the UK hospitality industry into forced closure for vast swathes of 2020 and 2021 so you wouldn’t expect them to be flush right now.

And while other sites are already thriving again, with Colbert doing roaring trade down in Sloane Square, the West End, where the Wolseley is based, is only just waking from its stupor, with trade still depressed by Mayfair’s businesses WFHing and a dearth of international tourists, for obvious reasons.

The West End, where the Wolseley is based, is only just waking from its stupor...

But it’s not just the principle that Corbin & King believe they have on their side, the landlord’s legals are looking a little lacklustre too.

According to the FT article a key loophole in The Wolseley’s tenancy agreement says that it is not obliged to pay rent  “if trading is not permitted at the site by government edict”. And it will be a tough argument to fight that this hasn’t been the case.

Undeterred, the FT reported that STJ Investments have filed papers in court to claim that the Wolseley “illegally sublet the premises because the lease was in the name of the Wolseley Prop Co, while the rent is paid by the Wolseley Op Co”. Presumably a complaint they weren’t making when the rent was free-flowing pre 2020.

The judge is likely to wryly smile and tell STJ to come back with something better...

A judge is likely to wryly smile and tell STJ to come back with something better, but it shows the extent to which the landlord is anxious to scrape back its losses.

And, to be fair, landlords are businesses too, albeit ones who have benefitted from astronomical rents up until now along with rocketing property values. Owning central London property has been a licence to print money for decades.

Surely it’s a little hard to feel sorry for STJ Investment’s Russian oligarch owner having to cut back on ming vases or beluga caviar.

But other landlords have been incredibly accommodating and happy to play the long game.

It’s notable that Cadogan Estates, who own Corbin & King’s Colbert site Colbert, were generous to tenants during coronavirus, instituting a model based on turnover as well as case-by-case rent holidays and other rent relief. A decision which must be literally paying dividends as hospitality in Chelsea, and not least Colbert, is booming right now.

Similarly the Duke of Westminster drew admiration for his progressive stance on rent holidays which saved many of our favourite bars and restaurants from going out of business altogether.

While it looks ultimately unlikely that the Wolseley will be evicted, it’s also unclear how easy it would be for the landlord to find a new tenant. In a tricky market and with all the negative publicity now surrounding them, the best way to boost returns may be to leave the Wolseley where it is…

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