Celebrity British chef Jamie Oliver (pictured) has ditched plans to set up in Hong Kong and use the city as a platform for his push into Asia.
Almost a year after plans were unveiled to open a restaurant in the city, heralding a bright new era for the celebrity chef in Asia, Oliver has instead plumped for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to open an international flagship restaurant.
The chef had intended to open a branch of his Jamie's Italian restaurant chain in Hong Kong late last year, his first foray into the region. However, the first Jamie's Italian outside Britain will instead open in Dubai's Festival City later this month.
Not only that, but Oliver's business partner for the UAE, the Bahrain-based Jawad Business Group, confirmed it intended to open eight more of the restaurants across the UAE over the next three to four years. The contract for a second restaurant had already been signed for Dubai's Mall of the Emirates.
Jamie's Italian International confirmed the move, saying: 'We currently have no plans to open a Jamie's Italian in Hong Kong, although our international expansion is ongoing.'
In August 2009, the Hong Kong company Tranic Franchising and Jamie's Italian International first announced their intention to bring Jamie's Italian into the Asian market.
The plan was to launch 30 Italian family-style restaurants across the region, starting in Hong Kong.
The city was also to be the development hub, providing all regional support in licensing, real estate, training and logistics for the project.
Jawad Business Group's restaurants division general manager, Tapan Vaidya, who is overseeing the UAE project, has his own opinions on why the company changed plans.
'I can't speak for Jamie's Italian International, but apart from the economic downturn, one reason why Jamie's Italian has not been located in Hong Kong could be because it still has to find the right partner to work with there,' Vaidya said.
'In Dubai it found the right partner in the Jawad Business Group and that's what makes all the difference. We are now the Middle Eastern franchisee of Jamie's Italian.
'It makes a lot of business sense to first have the right people in place to manage your brand abroad. It's crucial to the success of the restaurant that the business partner replicates everything Jamie Oliver stands for. Anything less won't work.'
When the venture was first announced in Hong Kong in mid-2009, Tranic Franchising was slated to become Jamie's Italian's business partner. The plan was to establish several company-owned restaurants before rolling more out region-wide with licensed partners. The Hong Kong restaurant should have opened in the second quarter of last year.
In May last year, Edward Pinshow, chairman of Tranic Franchising, told the Sunday Morning Post: 'We're still trying to sort out the logistics for exactly where Jamie's Italian will be, but we hope to make an announcement on it in the very near future.'
Since then Tranic Franchising has not responded to numerous phone calls, e-mails or agreed to personal interview requests from the Post.
Negotiations with Dubai began in mid-2009, around the same time as the Hong Kong announcement.
The new Jamie's Italian in Dubai's Festival City will be a 290-seater restaurant, and is scheduled to open this month.
The restaurant chain, which started in 2007, now has 15 sites in Britain.