The Founder Of Pret Brushes Off Thousands Dying In The Name Of Saving Hospitality, But Is Cancelling Pret The Answer?

Julian Metcalfe hasn't been affiliated with Pret for years, but he represents a type of person we should be fighting against.

Pret A Manger sign

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

This morning, ‘Pret’ began trending and for once, it wasn’t because of their latest lunch creation or festive sandwich menu. In fact, some people are instead urging for Pret to be cancelled. Why? Because of a particularly harrowing comment from Julian Metcalfe, who founded the company in 1986.

‘Society will not recover if we do it [lockdown] again to save a few thousand lives of very old or vulnerable people,’ he told The Daily Mail when asked about the possibility of another national lockdown. ‘The young people of this country will be paying for this for the next 20 to 30 years. It’s terrible what’s happening.’

Understandably, his comments have caused outrage online. ‘Founder of Pret there, casually tossing ‘a few thousand lives’ into graves,’ TV critic Toby Earle tweeted. ‘Bold of the owner of Pret to go full “they had better die and decrease the surplus population” this close to Christmas,’ joked comedy writer James Felton.

Ultimately, his comments are reprehensible. It goes without saying that to treat older and vulnerable people dying with such a blasé attitude is disgusting. But, as people rush to cancel Pret and encourage others not to spend money there, there is one glaring fact being ignored. Julian Metcalfe isn’t affiliated with Pret A Manger anymore, in any capacity.

‘We are aware of Julian Metcalfe’s comments this morning, but he has not run the business for over ten years and we do not agree with his opinion,’ read a tweet from Pret’s account this morning. ‘We at Pret strongly believe we must take steps to stop the spread of the virus and tackle the new wave of infections.’

But does he still own a stake in the company, I hear you ask? Whether he’s involved or not, if buying our Jambon-Beurre means lining his pockets, we’d rather not. Well, no is the answer. Pret was bought out for £1.5billion in May 2018 and Metcalfe did not retain any shares.

‘Julian does not have any shares in Pret, nor any affiliation with the company, which has been the case for many years now,’ Pret confirmed when asked about this.

So, perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to cancel Pret in our outrage at Metcalfe's comments. What we do need to do though, is fight the type of person and narrative that Metcalfe represents. He is one of many business leaders, campaigners and MPs that pleaded with Boris Johnson last night to resist another lockdown in the name of saving the economy.

Yes, the economy will suffer in a second lockdown, but when scientists are warning that deaths could reach 85,000 in a second wave of coronavirus, a trade-off has to be made. And, to suggest that businesses are more important than the lives of so many people – our friends, parents and grandparents alike - only speaks to the immense privilege men like Metcalfe represent.

Make no mistake, men like Metcalfe will not suffer like the working class would in a second lockdown.

Because, ‘leaders’ like him love to plead with the government about saving at-risk businesses, as if they're champions of 'the little guy' - concerned for struggling business owners who could lose their livelihood in a second lockdown. But make no mistake, men like Metcalfe, who is worth £215million according to the 2019 Sunday Times Rich List will not suffer like the working class, or even middle class, would. He does not represent the average working family, not you nor me.

He is simply a very wealthy man, with all the privileges that affords including private healthcare and the luxury of staying at home to stay safe instead of being out working like the poorest among us have had to continue to do, pandemic or not. What he’s ultimately asking for when he pleads for businesses to stay open is for the working class people that keep the companies he owns (and sells, as if his life is a Monopoly board) making money, to continue working their low-paid jobs all so his profits, his shares, his bottom line, doesn’t waver.

This is clear from the current state of his sushi empire, which he says has been 'completely decimated' by lockdown. As the founder of Itsu, which has 35 of it's 77 stores still shut and a third of their staff on furlough, he has seen a company he owns 54% of complete an insolvency procedure in lockdown - in order to close two stores and slash rents on 53 more. Ultimately, Itsu, one of the few businesses he founded that he hasn't since sold, is in major trouble.

In another interview with the Daily Mail where he spoke of said empire being ravaged, he said the virus 'has been blown out of all proportion' and thought it was 'extraordinary that businesses aren't bringing people back [to work]'. Those people? Well, for companies like Itsu who pay starting team members £8.80 per hour, that's the working class people putting their lives at risk for less than the living wage. All so his empire is saved while he rolls his eyes at the deaths of 'a few thousand'.

So while his comments may not call for the end of Pret, they should call for the end of this terrifying narrative. Our lives should be more important than your bottom line.

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