8/8 ONE YEAR ON: Egon Ronay-recommended French restaurant Le Cassoulet closed last week, its business having failed to recover in the past 12 months
There could be a full-blown crisis at Taberner House: where will Croydon Council’s £248,000 a year chief executive Jon Rouse go for lunch now that his favourite restaurant, Le Cassoulet, has closed?
The restaurant which chef Malcolm John hoped would “bring a little of the West End to Croydon” is the latest casualty of the 8/8 riots, and is another prestige business lost to the borough, following the departures of Nestle and Bank of America, and the administration of Allders.
The closure also blows a massive hole in the “Restaurant Quarter” ill-conceived PR strategy for South End, devised at considerable expense by White Label, the PR agency chosen by Rouse’s council and paid for with tens of thousands of riot recovery money.
Le Cassoulet was the beautifully appointed and furnished restaurant with a reputation for French fine dining on Selsdon Road in South Croydon. It closed its doors for the final time last week. The decision was “heartbreaking” according to sources close to the award-winning chef.
Since it opened in 2008, the restaurant had garnered an Egon Ronay one-star accolade, and even that fiercest of critics, the Sunday Times‘s AA Gill, awarded it three stars.
But with the impending loss of its expense account business from Nestle executives, and the continued downturn in business through Gideon Osborne’s double-dip recession, John felt he could not continue with the business.
John was “not ready yet” today to comment on the decision to close the restaurant.
In an interview with the Croydon Guardian a month ago, John blamed the run-down appearance of the area, with many other shops closed and boarded up. Many of the properties along Selsdon Road are owned by the multi-million pound Whitgift Foundation.
“My customers sit and look out the window and are faced by overflowing bins across the road. I have spoken to the council about this, but nothing is done,” John said, complaining about harassment of his customers by local drunken vagrants, many of whom spend the day in the nearby churchyard.
Trade had been down for the past six months in Croydon, John observed, comparing it with his other restaurants in Sutton, Chiswick and Putney. “The impact of the riots can’t be underestimated. People just aren’t coming to Croydon from our neighbouring boroughs any more.”
Sources in the area suggest that Le Cassoulet’s sales in August and September last year were down by 90 per cent compared to 2010. Re-building that sort of lost trade would be a long and difficult process.
“Nestle is going, and with them some of my customers, and Allders has gone under.
“I love Croydon – I live here – but I am seriously considering moving Le Cassoulet to a more prominent location. It may be in the borough, it may be out of Croydon altogether.”
In the Croydon Guardian interview, John had said he would make the decision by the end of the year, but with his lease due for renewal at the end of July, the shutters went up before the weekend.
John had warned that he wanted to see some simple, readily achievable improvements: “Something needs to be done. The road needs to be tidied up and there needs to be a bigger police presence to deter the people who leave rubbish in the street and harrass my customers,” he said in the interview.
John’s other South Croydon restaurant, Fish and Grill, continues to trade, and he remains committed to the council-run “South End Restaurant Quarter”. A Croydon resident, he has also supported various training and employment schemes for the borough’s youth.
“Malcolm John is fine man and an excellent chef, but he is not a miracle worker,” said Charlotte Davies, the chair of South Croydon Community Association
“He alone cannot change the fundamentals of the South Croydon street scene without the council having a clear strategic plan for the area based on solid evidence.
“The council rebranded the area, but like lazy teenagers hiding their dirty laundry they did not look beyond the PR, and make any effort to get to grips with the fundamental problems affecting the area.”
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