Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver File picture: Robert Schlesinger/EPA

Cape Town - After previous false rumours of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain coming to South Africa, Business Report can now confirm the first local outlet will open in Melrose Arch this month.

South African start-up venture capital company Lucid Venture has announced that it had acquired a 20 percent stake in Jamie’s Italian for R4 million. Lucid plans to roll out another four stores in the next five years across South African cities, with Durban and Cape Town their preferred next destinations. Under the terms of the deal, Lucid holds Jamie’s Italian development licence in South Africa.

Lucid’s founder Godin Novick, who also founded low-cost airliner Kulula.com, said it was a natural investment for them to bring Jamie’s Italian to South Africa as Oliver was widely popular here.

“Jamie is probably the best loved celebrity chef globally and his restaurants around the world are doing very well. An affordable, accessible and traditional Italian restaurant really appealed to us.”

Jamie’s Italian has over 40 restaurants across the world.

The eatery was founded in 2008 by Oliver and his Italian mentor, chef Gennaro Contaldo, and specialises in Italian cuisine.

The company’s website says the menu takes inspiration from the Italian table, “where people relax, share and enjoy each others company with antipasti and nibbles as well as comforting bowls of pasta, beautiful fresh salads and grills”.

Oliver made his name advocating for healthy English and Italian cuisine, hosts television shows and has written numerous books sharing his recipes. Last year, Oliver’s publisher, Michael Joseph, said his cookbooks had surpassed the £150m (R2.6â billion) mark in sales, making him the best selling non-fiction author of all time.

This is Lucid Venture’s maiden investment since being launched this year by Novick and his five partners.

Entrepreneurial spirit

The company has an initial capital base of R80m with the funds aimed at investing in the casual dining sector and other entrepreneurial initiatives.

Novick said this would not be their last investment in the casual dining sector and they were also targeting the tourism industry.

“We’re also going to invest into the hospitality space given our belief that South Africa’s tourism potential is on the upside,” he said.

Novick teamed up with five other entrepreneurs in founding Lucid, which they hoped would revive the entrepreneurial spirit in the country. “South Africa has a history of brilliant entrepreneurs. With a new source of venture capital funding now in place combined with strategic support and mentorship, our hope is that many more emerge and that we can play a part in their success.”

WEEKEND ARGUS