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Kelly's' i: HARD TIMES FOR EASY NET CAFES.

Byline: MATT KELLY

STAND outside any of the 20-odd branches of internet cafe easyEverything, from Oxford Street to Times Square, and you'll see a licence to print money.

Often jammed solid, usually with homesick Aussies and Kiwis catching up on email, surfing the net, and all chipping into the burgeoning fortune of the chain's owner, Stelios Haji-Ioannou - "the new Branson".

And if you need further confirmation that easyEverything is a great success, simply turn to Haji-Ioannou or his press officer who will confidently regale you with evidence that the rapidly-expanding empire is a real winner.

At least that was the picture until last week. A rather more grave Haji-Ioannou has since revealed that his company is, not to put too fine a point on it, dying on its arse.

And his bid to rescue the chain has taken something of the shine off the man famous for his cheeky grin and unlimited bonhomie.

That bonhomie, however, didn't extend to easyEverything's staff, who suddenly found stock holdings they thought were worth up to pounds 20,000 had been devalued by their tycoon boss to the tune of 99 per cent.

"That's business," 34-year-old Haji-Ioannou is said to have explained."

But it's Haji-Ioannou himself, valued at between pounds 800million and pounds 1billion, who has taken the biggest hit, and we're not talking about the pounds 15million emergency cash injection. His credibility, far more valuable, has never been lower.

"This company had run out of cash. It could not meet the payroll this month. Other people would have pulled the plug. I am going to take another roll of the dice," he bravely told the FT.

Massive overheads from prime-location stores and a meagre drip-feed of revenues are to blame it seems.

Now he has placed himself in complete control of the chain, and the future of large-scale internet cafes is in his hands. But if he can't make already packed stores pay, we doubt any amount of grinning and ripping up competitor's logos will turn it around.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Words:338
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