There surely can be no more difficult time to try to open a new business than the present, especially if your business is in the hospitality trade and the nation is under coronavirus lockdown.
But that’s the hand that has been dealt to Andre Kecek, the new manager of the café in Lloyd Park, which has just re-opened after nearly six months. Rebranded the Lounge Café and after having undergone an extensive re-fit costing an estimated six-figure sum, the venue was primed ready to open again just before Easter, and the start of the busy summer season in the park, with walkers, footballers, the weekly ParkRuns and other events lined up for the summer.
And then covid-19 happened.
Kecek’s hoped-for grand re-opening was stalled, and it was only a fortnight ago that the café was able to open on a very limited, one-person-in-one-person-out basis, with a takeaway menu.
“It’s tough, of course,” Kecek said, “but things have been picking up at weekends, and we’re hopeful.”
The venue is part café, part art gallery now, displaying the works of Chris Shea, also known as State of the Art, the artist behind the “Rainbow Boy” stencils that, as Inside Croydon first reported, have raised thousands of pounds for NHS charities during the covid-19 lockdown. Shea and Kecek are friends, and the hope is that in more “normal” times, more of his work might be displayed, and sold from the smartly re-modelled café.
And the new management have done their market research, too: they offer hot dogs and cater for hot dogs.
As well as the usual snacks and meals for human customers, they have a line of treats that devoted dog-walkers might want to buy for their pooch at the end of a daily exercise, including doggie ice cream.
The café building is council-owned, and is operated under a lease from the Town Hall, as the local authority chose to “outsource” this aspect of its park operations.
A breakdown in the relationship with the previous licensee was the reason for the six-month closure, as despite operating a friendly and successful business, they brought down at the end of November last year, frustrated at some of the more onerous requirements laid down by the council, and the lack of repairs and maintenance from regular outbreaks of vandalism.
One member of the Lloyd Park friends group noted that the previous café operator, “felt unable to continue her fabulous work at Lloyd Park, not due lack of customers but due to lack of support from the council in regards to break-ins, the state of the toilets and the damage caused by events”.
Included in the tenancy agreement by the council is the requirement on the café management to clean and maintain the separate toilets in the building. “So whoever gets the contract cops it for any damage caused (mud from football, rugby, used nappies in bins) and wasteful use of consumables (toilet paper and soap).”
For the time being, because of the coronavirus lockdown, the toilets are not open.
“The previous tenants also had to install CCTV for repeated break-ins and at one point weren’t covered by insurance. Someone stole keys and the council took several days to change the locks, during which time they were broken into again and more than £500-worth of stock was stolen.”
The council’s neglect of the building and their tenant has seen a defibrillator that was installed outside the café for use in emergency stolen and vandalised so many times that it hasn’t been replaced in more than six months.
“I wish the new tenants lots of luck,” the park friend noted on social media, “They’ll need it!”
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