O'Brien's Sandwiches facing cuts as knives out for food industry

Difficulties have arisen due to the number of his franchise holders who have closed their business — leaving him to pick up the rental bill…"Two weeks ago we received an anonymous email from an individual warning us to get out while the going is good," he said when asked about the difficulties in his business.

http://www.independent.ie
June 14, 2009

O'Brien's Sandwiches facing cuts as knives out for food industry
Niamh Horan

ONE of the golden boys of Ireland's boom-time years, Brody Sweeney, is the latest in a long line of successful entrepreneurs to feel the bite of credit crunch.

The founder of the international O'Brien's Sandwich Bar franchising operation is experiencing severe difficulties in the UK and will have to take serious action by the end of this week as he struggles to save the once highly-profitable chain of sandwich bars and coffee shops.

The self-made man, who told how he founded the successful sandwich chain in the best-selling book Making Bread and who was a regular on the after-dinner circuit at the height of Ireland's prosperity, is now struggling to save his business in the UK.

Mr Sweeney, who contested the last election as a Fine Gael candidate, says O'Brien's in the UK cannot continue trading at the level it is at.

Difficulties have arisen due to the number of his franchise holders who have closed their business — leaving him to pick up the rental bill.

Mr Sweeney is now working around the clock to keep his business afloat as it struggles to ride out the current economic storm.

"Two weeks ago we received an anonymous email from an individual warning us to get out while the going is good," he said when asked about the difficulties in his business.

At its peak, O'Brien's had opened up to 140 British outlets, but it still struggled to make the impact Mr Sweeney had hoped for.

Speaking about the Irish arm of the snack chain, Mr Sweeney explained: "Things are very tough. Retail in Ireland is in serious difficulty at the moment but we are not as bad as the car trade. We couldn't continue trading for the next few years at the level we are at."

Mr Sweeney, who left sandwiches to pursue a career in politics, also admitted his time away could have impacted on the business. Commenting on whether or not he took his "eye off the ball" while pursuing his political dream, the former Fine Gael candidate said: "That mightn't be completely untrue.

"I got out of the business effectively for three years and then I realised towards the end of last year that I better get myself back in because things were very serious in the economy."

The sandwich king became one of the roaring successes of the Celtic Tiger after expanding O'Brien's from a shaky start 20 years ago, when it almost went under, to a business with about 300 franchised sandwich bars in Ireland, Britain, the Middle East, Asia and Canada.

Mr Sweeney, who is now running the company on a day-to-day basis again after former chief executive Fiacra Nagle left the company in November last, bought back a 20 per cent stake in the business from Bank of Scotland last year and now owns 69 per cent of the franchising operation.

- NIAMH HORAN EXCLUSIVE

http://www.independent.ie/business/small-business/obriens-sandwiches-facing-cuts-as-knives-out-for-food-industry-1773277.html


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