Simon Blagden has stepped down as chief executive of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant empire.

Staff at Jamie Oliver’s offices were informed of Blagden’s departure in an email earlier today. It is understood that Jon Knight, Jamie’s Italian’s international managing director, will take on Blagden’s responsibilities.

Blagden’s role had been called into question earlier this week, when it was announced that Jamie’s Italian was to be brought under the same management as that of Jamie Oliver Holdings, the chef’s television and book publishing business, at a new corporate headquarters on Holloway Road in north London.

Blagden, who joined Jamie’s Italian in 2008 as its managing director from PizzaExpress, spearheaded the growth and development of the Jamie’s Italian brand both in the UK and internationally.

The former Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) executive went on to become chief executive of the high-profile chef’s restaurant group, which includes the Barbecoa concept and at one time the short-lived flatbread/pizza concept Union Jacks.

He won the Rising Star award at the Retailers’ Retailer Awards in 2009 and the overall Retailers’ Retailer prize in 2011. Jamie’s Italian also won the emerging concept award in 2009.

As revealed earlier this week, after a £10.9m hit from closing six sites at the start of this year, Jamie’s Italian slumped from a full-year pre-tax profit of £2.4m to a loss of £9.9m.

Knight, who is the former chief executive of Al Khayyat Investments (AKI) Retail Division in Dubai, joined the company last year.

Knight and the family-owned AKI have helped the likes of Supergroup, Holland & Barrett and most recently Fortnum & Mason enter the Middle East. Previous to that, he was a franchisor at Marks & Spencer (M&S) for a number of years.