As a parent you aren't supposed to have favourites (but, game's up Mum and Dad, we know you always do), and in a burgeoning serious insolvency and financial newsroom you certainly can't afford to prefer one Bella Italia over another Byron. However, the news this morning that Itsu, that sleek, beautiful source of 'health and happiness' (their tag-line) has joined the growing list of restaurant chains to explore restructuring options amidst the hurricane blowing over 'open' signs up and down the high street, brought a little namida (Japanese for tear) to our eye.
Neil still tells the story of when, a couple of years ago, he was lecturing a CPI group in Cavendish Square, London and fancied lunch nearby to reflect on the nine terrible things he had been forced to say that morning to a group unmoved by MVLs, when he popped into Itsu on Upper Regent Street. 'Health and Happiness' cooed the sign above the door, whilst inside people were floating around wearing expensive Ray-Bans balanced stylishly on their hairlines and linen suits unruffled by a morning at the hedge fund. He picked up a small cone of edamame beans and a couple of extra miniscule boxes of deliciousness and took them to the counter adorned by smiling, fit, marvellous people. "That will be £28.30," said Ganka who appeared as genderless as 'it' did coiffured, "eat in or take away?" "You WHAT?" spluttered Neil, "I want lunch, not a part-share in your SISTER." Ganka smiled again, unmoved (but not un-spat upon) by the outburst, "napkins and cutlery to your left. Enjoy."
Itsu really is a place of wonderous gems, a true alternative to the lunchtime BLT or tuna and mayo. It has grown from a Yo-Sushi competitor, with splendidly laden carousels of gorgeousness (such as the mesmerisingly glorious chicken and lemongrass soup), to a main lunchtime operator. I mean, good Lord, it has even inveigled its way into Spinningfields in Manchester (that's right, I said 'Manchester'. I haven't just mis-spelt 'Mayfair' appallingly badly). But even heaven isn't immune to the ill-winds of the pandemic. Alix Partners are assisting the chain to look at options including a Company Voluntary Arrangement. It isn't entirely surprising, as Itsu is part of the Casual Dining Group who have entered into talks over a sale to Epiris, a private equity firm and Alix have form with that group.
As you know, the Casual Dining Group was placed into Administration ten days ago, resulting in the immediate closure of 91 of its 250 sites, with the loss of 1,900 jobs and there is more bad news to come. 'Itsu' means 'when' in Japanese and we in the NTI newsroom are afraid to say the answer is 'now'.