Celebrity chef Momma Cherri is signing on the dole, she told The Argus.
The woman who shot to fame after appearing on Gordon Ramsay’s hit show Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares said she will have to claim unemployment benefit after finally shutting down her soul food restaurant for good.
The restaurant – Momma Cherri’s Big House, in Little East Street, Brighton – had been closed for several weeks after administrators moved in, told staff to leave and changed the locks.
Momma Cherri – real name Charita Jones – was pinning her hopes on a Brighton businessman stumping up the cash to buy the business out of administration.
But after waiting several weeks for the money she has taken the reluctant decision to close down permanently.
Mrs Jones said: “The Big House is out of my hands now and I no longer have to spend all my time figuring out how to keep it open.
“What I am doing now is sitting down, rethinking the whole project and trying to come up with another way of making this work.”
The past few weeks have been tough for Mrs Jones as she has felt ashamed at the collapse of the restaurant, which she originally opened in East Street in 2001.
She said: “At first I was feeling really guilty and was sitting indoors for a week because I did not want to be recognised.
“But there is nothing for me to be ashamed about.
I have been running this since 2001 and eight years is a long time when it comes to restaurants.
Aldo Zilli had a lot more money and he didn’t make it two years in Brighton.”
The Kitchen Nightmares episode starring Momma Cherri’s was one of the show’s most popular and led to Mrs Jones become a famous face in and around Brighton.
She says she is now recognised even when she goes abroad, with people saying hello in such diverse places as a Moroccan souk and in Paris while she waited for the Eurostar.
Mrs Jones said: “The only thing that hasn’t increased is my bank account.
I am probably the poorest celebrity out there but I feel rich in terms of what I have gained from the experience.
I would do it all over again.
I can hold my head up high and don’t think of myself as a failure.”
Mrs Jones put the restaurant’s failure down to not being able to attract enough diners during the week because of the recession.
She said: “It was the same problem we had when Ramsay first came to me.
I had a lot of staff I was loyal to and I did not want to make anyone unemployed.
But if we went weekendonly earlier we would not have been spending a thousand pound a month on gas and going deeper and deeper into debt.
It was complete déjà vu.”
Mrs Jones added: “Now I am going to sign on because I haven’t had a single bit of income for the last four weeks.
I don’t see it as a permanent situation because I am all about work and creating opportunities.”
She said she is confident the Momma Cherri brand is still strong and is writing her second cook book.
She is also looking to combine an outside catering business with a gospel choir she recently set up in order to offer the whole “soul food experience” to weddings and parties.
Opening another, smaller restaurant is also a possibility and Mrs Jones is even considering going takeaway-only.
She said: “Watch this space.
I am not disappearing.”
Mark Froud, the chief executive of Sussex Enterprise, the county’s chamber of commerce, said: “The closure of any well-known local business will obviously cause concern and have an impact.
It’s important to remember there are many successful businesses that have adapted to the economic situation and are doing well.”