“Heartbroken” top chef blames riots for restaurant closure

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

Prestige restaurant found its business badly affected after the riots of August 2011

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.”

Closed: how Le Cassoulet looks this week, defeated by the recession and riots

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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5 Responses to “Heartbroken” top chef blames riots for restaurant closure

  1. Diana Lyne says:

    Maybe price had something to do with this closure? Many people just don’t have money to spend on eating out – especially at expensive restaurants, which I believe this one was compared with others nearby…for example The Little Bay, which is just a few doors away and fantastic value.

  2. Such a shame as it was a feather in the cap for the area/borough to have the restaurant.

    I did wonder from day one how it would do being down that road rather than on the main restaurant stretch.

    Full credit to him for making it a success up until now. I’ve eaten in there a few times and always enjoyed it.

    That ‘Ye Market’ road is now a disgrace and reflective of the overall decline of Croydon. It angers me so much to see the state of it. I work round the corner and live up the road so I’m always there and have witnessed the decline. I can remember when every shop there was occupied and there was an excellent off-licence/wine merchant now boarded up and looking an eyesore.

    I hope the South Croydon Community Association can have an influence and bring about improvements.

  3. I don’t agree with your “The closure also blows a massive hole in the ‘Restaurant Quarter'” statement. I predict it will make no difference whatsoever.

    There are still plenty of good quality restaurants, that are more sensibly-priced for the average punter living in and around Croydon.

    There are also plenty of terrible ones, and it’s sad to see one of the better ones close it’s doors.

    Shops and restaurants come and go every week, and this is just another example.

  4. ndavies144 says:

    Those blaming the prices at Le Cassoulet are missing the point. It was a fine-dining restaurant. The number of kitchen and front-of-house staff required to produce that quality of food and level of service mean it’s never going to compete with the routine curry houses and pizza and pasta places the comprise most of the strip. It was the sort of place that you’d go for birthdays and wedding anniversaries, or to entertain corporate clients, rather than for a weekday meal out because you don’t feel like cooking, or for a bite after a few Saturday night drinks.

    When you go to such a place and spend that kind of money you expect decent surroundings. When you spend any kind of money you expect to feel safe. We’ve eaten there a number of times and enjoyed it immensely; but we live here and can close our eyes to the surrounding grot. There are some visitors I just wouldn’t take to Le Cassoulet because I knew their judgement of the place would be coloured before they got through the door.

    Mr John’s less formal restaurant, Fish and Grill, is still there up the road. Let’s hope it’s doing well and he finds a better location for Le Cassoulet to complement it.

  5. Bar Txt says:

    The re-branding of the Restaurant Quarter was a fast reaction to help the area, following the riots last year. It has been very successful in helping the area out of the black hole that it was left with after the riots, with new restaurants and businesses opening up in previously empty premises and many thousands of visitors at the Food Festival held on a bright and windy day in March 2012.

    The longer term investment from the Recovery Fund will transform the appearance of the area and the police are actively tackling the anti-social behaviour problem with some recent successes.

    However, it cannot be denied that the area has more than its fair share of social and community facilities that deal with the rehabilitation of those with anti-social problems and this does have a negative impact. Both the South Croydon Business Association and the South Croydon Community Association are campaigning for these facilities to be re-sited in more appropriate areas.

    Unfortunately, it was in spite of this support that the highly reputable gastronomic delight that was Le Cassoulet restaurant was forced to close. A sorry loss to the area, and to all local fine dining aficionados, but a sad example of the current trading conditions that are strangling the restaurant and hospitality industries throughout the country.

    In a double dip recession, with business rates and rents at an all time high against turnover and supermarkets being allowed to sell food at zero percent VAT, while restaurants are forced to charge 20%, it is not surprising that this fine restaurant was forced to close. And that’s without considering the lack of customers following the riots and the loss of huge businesses, like Nestle, in the area. The Thrive on 5% VAT campaign http://www.facebook.com/groups/thriveonfive/ is asking the public to support a campaign to ask the government to cut VAT on food, non alcoholic drinks and accommodation in the hospitality industry to save worthy businesses, just like Le Cassoulet.

    21 countries in the EU have a lower VAT rate for the hotel sector and 13 for the overall hospitality sector.

    In France, tax was reduced from 19.65% to 5% and led to the creation of 21,700 jobs in the first year.
    A cut in VAT could help create 320,000 jobs in the post Olympic years and help save pubs, restaurants and hotels.

    I sincerely hope that no more of our fine and worthy restaurants in South Croydon suffer the same fate as Le Cassoulet, due to the government’s lack of action on saving this important employment sector in the UK.

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