Acclaimed chef Glynn Purnell has closed his new Edgbaston restaurant, The Asquith, and lost £40,000 following a bitter dispute with a debt-laden property developer.
The Michelin star chef and TV cook pulled the plug after a final lunch service on Mother’s Day.
The Asquith opened six months ago as Purnell’s test-bed for new catering industry talent. But the chef said the trading situation had become intolerable due to landlord Tony Gayden, whose hotel/motel business Totel (UK) Ltd has collapsed.
The Birmingham Post can reveal that Totel, of which Mr Gayden is the sole director, has been placed in compulsory liquidation. Creditors include the National Westminster Bank and a Wolverhampton welding company.
It also emerged that a petition to wind up the failing business, based at 19 Portland Road, Edgbaston, was made before Mr Gayden approached Purnell to take over the site of the former Pascal’s restaurant last summer.
Totel ran a block of 10 serviced apartments at the adjoining Asquith House with suites named after luxury car-makers including Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce and Ferrari.
According to the most recent accounts filed with Companies House, Totel had bank loans of more than £1.5 million secured against the Portland Road assets.
Purnell’s decision to quit the site ends a protracted and costly saga for one of Britain’s most popular chefs.
Purnell revealed he was forced to temporarily close The Asquith – sister restaurant to the flagship, Michelin-starred Purnell’s in the city centre – after Mr Gayden allegedly failed to pay back-dated Severn Trent bills, leaving the restaurant without water.
Although the supply problem was resolved, there are understood to have been ongoing difficulties relating to Mr Gayden’s troubled business interests.
The 64-year-old entrepreneur is also a director of Harborne Village Mews and Edgbaston’s £4 million Montague Mews development, which was launched near The Asquith last September. Neither of these companies, both separately formed, is involved in the liquidation of Totel.
Purnell’s restaurant, in Cornwall Street, which has won plaudits for its innovative cooking, is unaffected by the closure of the chef’s Edgbaston business.
And in a further twist, The Asquith is set to make a swift return to the city’s dining scene at a new venue.
Purnell said he hopes The Asquith will re-open by June at a site near his main restaurant. All the staff, including talented head chef Jason Eaves and restaurant manager Julie Tonsgaard, will be re-employed.
Purnell told the Post: “The Asquith will be back and I am now in advanced negotiation regarding a great location in Birmingham city centre, in the heart of the business district.
“I am committed to the concept of The Asquith, taking young and local talent and giving them the opportunity to excel.
“Despite the property problems, the team at The Asquith proved they can do it and the prospect of a new restaurant, in the city centre, is proving really exciting,”
Purnell, whose partner Kerry is expecting their third baby, said he was hugely disappointed to pull out of the site in Montague Road.
He had fond memories of the place, having won his first Michelin star at the then Jessica’s in 2005 before going solo in 2007. But the breakdown of the business relationship with Mr Gayden meant closure was the only option, according to Purnell.
He said: “You get to the point where you cannot offer good food and great service unless all aspects of the environment are absolutely right.”
Purnell said Mr Gayden’s alleged failure to pay back-dated water rates, resulting in The Asquith being left “high and dry,” was pivotal.
He said: “We had to close the restaurant and turn people away. We were supplied by the landlord with a large water bowser but not only did the system that he set up contravene water regulations, I couldn’t be sure the supply was not contaminated, so I had no option but to close until the water was re-connected. Once the bill was paid Severn Trent was brilliant with the speed of response, but we lost trade at one of the busiest times of the year.
“Since then, we have experienced continuing problems with the landlord and eventually, you realise that enough is enough. I’m just not going to compromise on any point of detail.”
Purnell declined to comment on how much money the affair had cost him but it is understood to be in the region of £40,000, including lost trade, legal fees, paying up wages and restaurant set-up costs that have had to be written off.
“I have lost a substantial amount of money,” said a frustrated Purnell. “I am a genuine, honest bloke who was trying to open another restaurant from a business point of view and to give younger people an opportunity. The staff were starting to click and then this happens. You think, ‘Why do I bother?’”
Purnell said he was close to signing a lease for a property in the Colmore Business District, in the city’s “Square Mile,” for the new-look Asquith. The food will continue to be modern French, catering for 40 covers, with a sleek bar.
Purnell said: “I want to create somewhere you can have Michelin standard food but you don’t spend a fortune. You can go to Purnell’s for a gastronomic experience and you can go to The Asquith for a £16-£17 lunch.”
The now empty shell of The Asquith in Edgbaston has had a chequered history. The building previously housed Pascal’s restaurant, run by Pascal Cluny, but Mr Gayden transferred the lease to Purnell last summer following a financial disagreement with the Frenchman.
Mr Gayden was repeatedly asked to comment but did not return calls.
According to Companies House, Mr Gayden has nine directorships, including the failed Totel. One of the four outstanding mortgage charges against Totel is held by DRS Welding Services Ltd, of Wolverhampton, for £336,000.