Harrogate indie owner offers inconvenient truths about the town's 'chainification'

“If residents don’t actively choose to use the businesses that have been created for them then they will fail and we will live in a town that doesn’t have indies. That’s the town we will have chosen, and the town we will deserve.” is the starkly honest summary by Harrogate independent business owner Paul Rawlinson in a series of articles on his blog, which address what is happening in the town’s independent business community, why it’s happening, and what can be done about it.

What's happening, why is it happening, and what can we do about it?

Rawlinson, who owns Baltzersen’s Cafe and Scandinavian-inspired restaurant Norse, was inspired to take to his blog, The Cafe Guy, following the recent demise of two indie food and drink businesses in the town;

“Goose was a relatively new business located on the Hornbeam Park development...a beautifully fitted out space offering cafe facilities and a space for kids to play. It was light and airy, immaculately clean and the food and drinks were very good and reasonably priced for the quality.  It closed it’s doors this week without a whole lot of information in terms of the reasons.”

“Damn Yankee was the exact opposite of Goose in that it was an established business that had been trading for 40 years...I gather it was at the forefront of bringing American dining to Harrogate in the early days and was part of the fabric of the town.  The owners decided to close this week citing a number of reasons including the level of competition in town.”

Today marks our 3rd birthday and also the beginning of our launch week at our new premises on Swan Road! ---------------------------------------------------- We'd like to say a huge thank you to you all for visiting us over the past three years! The restaurant has made huge developments recently which wouldn't be possible without your continued support. Thanks for a great 3rd year and we can't wait to see you all in our new space in the very near future! 🙌🎉🎁🎈🎊🍽🍺🍸🍻🍹🍷🍾🥂🥃🍴 ---------------------------------------------------- Head over to our Facebook page for the chance to win a table for two at our VIP launch night on Friday! #birthday #three #wearethree #threeyearsold #restaurant #nordic #nordiccuisine #harrogate #norwegian #norse #norway 📸@andrewbenge
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Goose and Damn Yankee are just the latest in a string of independent closures, which also include Yorkshire Meatball Company, Van Zeller’s, Salsa Posada, BED, Andy Annat’s Crackerjack BBQ, Bib and Tucker, Jakes and Runamocha.

In a similar timespan, over a dozen chains and groups including Jamie’s Italian, Ask Italian, Gino’s, and The Foundry have managed to launch and sustain businesses.

Over the course of five articles, Rawlinson, who sits on the management group for Harrogate DIstrict Chamber of Commerce explores the factors and culprits in the dichotomy of failing indies and thriving chains. Usual suspects such as councils, landlords, and the government are given a fair and objective examination, as well as less-often scrutinised parties such as customers.

No-one owes any indie business owner a living.

Businesses themselves aren’t let off the hook, observing that “no-one owes any indie business owner a living. If what we offer doesn’t attract enough people then it’s on us, the owners, to make changes” and advising businesses “don’t be a bad indie” in part 4. - entitled “What can we do?” - which also commends organisations such as Leeds Indie Food and Leeds BID for helping businesses promote themselves and each other.

The full series of posts can be found here, and make essential, pertinent reading for food and drink fans in any town or city, not just Harrogate.

Just days after publishing these articles - which also mentions the media’s role in helping independents get their story out there - Yorkshire Evening Post published a review of the newly-opened Gino D’Acampo My Restaurant Harrogate, which may have felt like a kick in the teeth to independents struggling against the onslaught of big names.

The review of their £107 “excellent value” meal for two praises “the likes of Pizza Express, Carluccio’s, Jamie’s and now Gino’s” for “raising standards” in Harrogate’s food and drink scene, which “until recent times [could] offer little more than a trusty Pizza Hut”.