Ottolenghi is forced to reduce restaurant opening hours due to chef shortage

Yotam Ottolenghi has had to reduce the opening hours of his restaurants due to a lack of chefs.

Emilio Foa is the chief executive officer of Ottolenghi’s restaurant group, which includes Nopi, Rovi and other restaurants in London’s West End. He said that the company had difficulty in hiring talented chefs as a result of Brexit and Covid.

Mr Foa stated: “Recruiting talented chefs after the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and Covid-19 has continued to be challenging. We have been forced to change our operating hours in certain circumstances.

The new trading hours have been successful for us.

Nopi and Rovi recently stopped serving breakfast, but according to a company spokesperson this is not related to Brexit. According to its website, the Ottolenghi Spitalfields Deli also ends lunch service 15 mins earlier than last year.

Ottolenghi is a company founded in 2002 by Mr Ottolenghi, his business partner and the Palestinian author and chef Sami Tamimi. They opened their first location in Notting Hills, a hybrid bakery-deli with only eight seats.

They have a large following of fans who love their relaxed style of dining. Over the last two decades, they have seen their restaurants, which serve a mix of Middle Eastern cuisines expand, and Mr Ottolenghi become a household brand.

The 54-year old chef has sold over 11 million books and is credited with revolutionizing the way middle class British people eat, by popularising ingredients like date molasses sumac and Za’atar.

He warned that his company would suffer from labour shortages due to Brexit. In 2019, he told The Atlantic there was “a slower influx of Europeans who came to work with us”.

In recent years, restaurants and pubs were forced to compete for the best talent due to a severe shortage of staff. According to a recent survey conducted by the trade association UK Hospitality, 61pc businesses are experiencing staff shortages.

The Dorchester, The Savoy and other luxury hotels were all affected by the pandemic. The Dorchester and The Savoy warned last month about staff shortages that were preventing their recovery.

The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) September data shows that the hospitality industry has more unfilled staff positions than any other sector, with approximately 120,000 vacancies.

In a joint effort with the Job Centre, the Government has tried out hospitality “boot camp” to encourage more unemployed workers to work in pubs and restaurant.

In addition to a shortage in chefs, the restaurants of Mr Ottolenghi have also had to deal with a disruption in the supply of essential ingredients.

Mr Foa stated: “Various events in the world, such as the Ukraine War, poor harvests, and the avian influenza, led to supply-chain issues for some of our key items, but our chefs have always demonstrated creativity when adapting our menus and offering.”

Newly filed accounts reveal that sales in Ottolenghi’s restaurants and delis increased from £21m (£21.67m) to £28m (£28.68m) over the period to March 2023. However, pre-tax profit plunged from £6m to £769,671 due to the rising costs.

Mr Foa, who is a former Burberry and Rapha executive hired to oversee the company in 2022, stated: “Double digit inflation impacts raw ingredients and overhead cost, leading to management spending significant time on managing its impact on the business.”

He said that despite the crisis in the cost of living, the chain’s wealthy customer base has “resisted and maintained their expenditure”.

He said: “Recruiting talent staff and creating a strong culture in the company continues to be our priority as we strive for amazing food and an extraordinary experience for our guests and clients.

We are excited to continue this trend into 2024.