On the Slab: Tootsies

When it first opened its doors in London back in 1971, Tootsies was the original posh burger chain.

But, these days, it is less famous for its gourmet patties than for the string of heavy-hitters who have tried to grab themselves a slice of the action. The company was sold for £26m to David Page's Clapham House Group in 2006, but only after it outbid Luke Johnson's child-friendly food chain, Giraffe. But Johnson, formerly Page's partner at Pizza Express and now a professional investor and the chairman of Channel 4, has had the last laugh. He has snapped up 11 sites for Giraffe from Tootsies' administrator BDO at a knockdown £2.5m.

Cause of death
The upmarket burger market has changed out of all recognition in recent years. Tootsies may have pioneered the format, but it has struggled to prevent younger, hungrier rivals from eating its lunch. Not least Gourmet Burger Kitchen, ironically also owned by Clapham House. After a protracted but fruitless attempt to sell the chain, Clapham House wrote down the value by a whopping £24.2m in July, before finally pulling the plug last month. Tootsies' fate wasn't helped by a BBC investigation last year that aired staff beefs that management in some Tootsies branches kept up to 60% of tips. Clapham House's other restaurants - including GBK and The Real Greek chains - remain profitable.

Reincarnation?
It was out of the grill pan and into the fire as last-ditch attempts to revive the chain's fortunes with a revamped menu only made things worse: like-for-like sales plunged almost 20% in the final weeks of trading. People were obviously no longer tempted by its 'The Works' burger - a rather unsavoury mix of crispy bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, caramelised onions, pineapple, free-range egg and beetroot. The remaining 10 restaurants will be closed, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of the 200-odd staff whose jobs have gone. There seems little chance of a revival: Tootsies has had its chips.

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