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pounds 2.6m debts leave city bar entrepreneur bankrupt.

Byline: David Bartlett

THE MAN who pioneered Liverpool's thriving bar scene has been declared bankrupt with debts of pounds 2.6m.

Rob Gutmann has seen his empire of stylish bars and restaurants steadily slip from his fingers over the past few years. And it has culminated in his personal bankruptcy.

He now faces the possibility of losing his luxury home in an exclusive South Liverpool neighbourhood.

Mr Gutmann, 44, told the Daily Post he is no longer involved in running bars and is philosophical about the bankruptcy.

He blamed bankers for being too quick to withdraw support during the economic downtur n.

Mr Gutmann pioneered the city's modern bar scene and was the first to recognise the potential of the Albert Dock as a drinking destination when he opened Blue Bar and Grill in 1998. He was also the driving force behind some of the most popular nightspots such as Korova and Alma de Cuba. Many of his former bars, including Blue Bar and Alma de Cuba, continue to operate today under totally different ownership.

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Mr Gutmann told the Post: "I hope people in Liverpool will respect what I have tried to do in the city and I remain very proud of venues such as the original Blue Bar & Grill, Korova and Alma De Cuba in particular which were all recognised at various times as being symbols of the city's revival and regeneration. "Despite the setbacks of recent times I hope the day will come when I can again play my part in contributing again to Liverpool's exciting future."

He was not putting himself in the same bracket as celebrity chefs Anthony Worrall Thompson and Gordon Ramsey who previously experienced high profile problems with their businesses but said there were parallels.

He added: "In our ways we were all victims of our entrepreneurial predilections colliding with what has been a juggernaut of a recession.

"Like others have reported in the leisure industry at the first sign of trouble lenders 'ran for cover' and in our case loan funding that had been agreed was withdrawn at a key stage. The knock-on effect of promised finance not materialising is catastrophic to business cash flows when commitments have already been made to start development projects.

"The absence of support from lenders has led to businesses having to try and 'trade out' of what was becoming an increasingly difficult market as people concerned about their houses and jobs simply started using bars and restaurants less and less.

online Bartlett liverpooldailypos"In my case bankruptcy is a consequence of lenders attempting to 'call in' personal guarantees.

It is an all too common story in the past couple of years and I agree that the banks were far too quick to withdraw their support to businesses in our industry."

He is planning a restaurant and bar design business for the future. The bankruptcy marks the end of Robert Sean Gutmann's spectacular career.

His empire of bars and restaurants started life in 1994 when he opened his first venture in one of central Liverpool's best known high street buildings.

Alongside father Mike he opened The Lyceum Cafe Bar in the neo-classical former library at the foot of Bold Street.

Mr Gutmann fell in love with Liverpool after travelling to the city from his home London to cheer on the Reds with his father. On leaving school he studied history at the University of Liverpool graduating in 1988.

He abandoned a planned career in journalism opting instead to dabble in the property market opening the Lyceum Cafe Bar with his own money, his father's retirement cash and a loan from Midland Bank (now HSBC). Six months later they opened the Lyceum Library Restaurant.

In 1997 they sold up and ploughed the money into the Albert Dock - a move that would revolutionise the city's bar scene and make Rob Gutmann one of its biggest players.

In April 1998 he opened a cafe at the Tate gallery at the Albert Dock and later that year launched the Blue Bar and Grill.

Baby Blue, the private bar, followed soon after and Mr Gutmann was being heralded for his stylish bars frequented by footballers.

In July 2001 Gutmann lavished pounds 1m to create the neighbouring PanAmerican Club. The same year he and his wife Michaela spent pounds 385,000 buying their exclusive home in South Liverpool which now has debts with HSBC bank secured against it.

A year later he took over Bar Monaco and in 2003 he followed it up with the opening of Baby Cream, both at the Albert Dock. In September 2005 he opened Alma de Cuba in the 300-year-old former St Peter''s church, in Seel Street, and Korova, in Wood Street - both became overnight successes.

Yet three months later the Liverpool FC fan placed the Lyceum Company into liquidation. Despite having raised pounds 3m through the sale of three of his Albert Dock venues it was insufficient to pay off scores of trade creditors owed hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The money was sufficient to pay off Lyceum''s bank, HSBC, but was not enough to cover the other debts of the business which lost pounds 358,000 in 2004. In fact the chain had barely broken even in the previous year recording a pre-tax profit of pounds 37,000.

But he kept hold of Korova, Alma de Cuba and Baby Cream, which were owned by a separate company Korova Corporation. In August 2006 it went on to open Alma Santiago in the former Dovedale Towers, in Penny Lane, as Gutmann spread his interests to south Liverpool.

The following month Korova bought the lease of popular Aigburth pub The Masonic, in Lark Lane, and converted it into the trendy Negresco.

Then, in March 2007, Korova Corporation bought three bars in Woolton - the company transformed the Coach and Horses, in Woolton Street, into Negresco Deco. Just 200 yards away the Famous Elephant became the Casa del Cocodrilo adopting a South American theme. Finally, Fargo Bar and Grill took over Il Bambino Elefante. But just three months later the company sold Alma de Cuba and Alma de Santiago to TGI Ltd for an undisclosed sum.

He returned to the now tried and tested Albert Dock in October 2007 when he announced the opening of Circo in the Britannia Pavilion. By that time the company was operating seven venues across the city, including Geisha in Myrtle Street.

In Liverpool's 2008 Capital of Culture year Mr Gutmann's "return to his spiritual home" seemed to be complete when he opened another bar at the Albert Dock, the American Irish-themed Raven.

Yet less than two months later it emerged he was working on a rescue deal to make sure the company could continue trading.

And in August 2008 the complex web of Korova group of companies started to collapse when NVRP, formerly Korova Corporation, and KVRP (which ran Korova) went into administration. At the time NVRP was only trading Circo and Negresco, its other bars Geisha, Casa del Cocodrilo, Fargo and Negresco Deco had closed.

Gutmann reached an agreement to buy Negresco and Circo from the administrators for pounds 930,000 using another company he was involved in called Weightco. And a licence to operate the bars was given to another firm called Docklands Bars Limited which Gutmann had been involved in and which was already running Korova, Raven, Babycream, and Dinomat and Zeligs in Liverpool One.

But by February 2009 creditors were knocking on Docklands Bars Limited's door and a trade supplier threatened to issue a winding up petition unless the firm settled a debt.

A month later Docklands Bars Limited was put into administration owing pounds 920,000.

Mr Gutmann told the Daily Post he was not involved with Docklands at the time it went into administration adding: "It was corporately complex and there were other shareholders involved."

In the same year he also entered into an Individual Voluntary Arrangement in an bid to settle his personal debts. But it fell apart after he was unable meet its terms.

Many of Mr Gutmann's bars re-opened under different names, for example Negresco is now The Lodge and is run by Urban Gastro Pubs Limited. Raven has become Portico Cantina and is run by Pax Leisure which also now owns Alma de Cuba and the Noble House. Baby Cream is now a Revolution bar.

online Read David Bartlett at blogs.liverpooldailypost


Mr Gutmann's luxury home in Liverpool, which he could now lose Robert Gutmann is facing up to bankruptcy Robert Gutmann a week before the opening of Blue in the Albert Dock in 2007
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 14, 2011
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