We say goodbye to hospitality businesses and find out what comes next
The ghosts of Christmas past (well last year) are coming back to haunt us, but this time it is the Omicron variant clanking its chains. A battered and bruised hospitality industry looks to be staring down the barrel of a quiet Christmas, instead of the double down on festive cheer it might have been hoping for.
While 2020 was particularly cruel, those who made it through the beginning of 2021 might have had some hope as customers began pouring back, though supply issues and staff shortages combined to make things difficult. In fact, a comfortingly small amount of places have closed since we wrote this article.
Still, a buzzing Christmas was absolutely necessary to make up for some of the losses and start 2022 off on the right note - circumstances and politicians have contrived to scupper that.
Though some people might argue that looking at the downside is counterproductive, we think it is important to acknowledge that hospitality has taken a huge hit this year and that the current situation is not designed to make things better.
Once again we urge you to support local, independent businesses however you can - whether it's ordering a takeaway, or buying gifts or vouchers for the new year. Knowing that customers will come back is a huge boost for operators and helps them plan ahead too.
With that in mind, we say thank you to some fantastic places and the staff that made them what they were, and hope that next year brings better things.
Albert Square Chop House, city centre
The Chop Houses are something of a legend in Manchester for their Victorian atmosphere and hearty menus.
The Albert Square Chop House found a home in Thomas Worthington’s iconic Memorial Hall back in 2013, operating a cosy pub beloved by many as well as a cracking venue for events, especially weddings. At that time, the building had been unoccupied when the company invested in a £3.5m refurb. Before that, it hosted the fondly remembered Square Albert pub.
Albert Square Chop House was not expected to be among the early openers as restrictions eased but as many places started to find their feet this summer its doors remained closed and rumours swirled that it had been taken over by a new operator.
Now: Albert Square Chop House was indeed taken over by Greene King's upscale offshoot, Metropolitan Pubs. The cosy feel remains and the Fountain House will once again be a wedding venue for Manchester couples looking for something quirky yet traditional for their nuptials. The kitchen's offering of stalwarts such as lamb belly and charter pie means that solid British cooking is staying on the menu too.
The Manchester-based and independently owned Chop House brand will retain Sam’s Chop House and Mr Thomas’s Chop House.
Groceries & Beer, Sale
Groceries & Beer, a smaller iteration of the popular Foodhall in Stretford, was key to reinvigorating the Stanley Square area of Sale. The venue followed Mital Morar's formula of a food shop that specialises in refillables and baked goods on one side of the unit and a communal eating area on the other. Just like Stretford, the menus changed weekly as the kitchen is occupied by different street food specialists. This is one story, however, where the news is all good. As the Square moved on to the next phase of its makeover, a unit big enough for a Foodhall proper opened up and Groceries & Beer made way for its big brother.
Now: The new Sale Foodhall is just around the corner and is a bigger version of G&B. The shop takes up less space and concentrates on wine, coffee and chocolate (all the staples then). And what's happening to the old Groceries & Beer unit. Something like this, perhaps?
The Hungry Duck, Ramsbottom
The Hungry Duck shut its doors abruptly, leaving customers and even staff puzzled as to what exactly was going on. While details were sparse, a few clues could be found across social media. In a local Facebook group, comments reveal that staff were made redundant with no warning and customers with bookings had not been informed. According to Companies House, one of the directors resigned at the beginning of November and a confirmation statement is overdue.
Now: Happy news - The Hungry Duck has reopened under new ownership. A post on Facebook reads:
"I'm sure most of you have noticed the restaurant being closed the last few weeks, well we are excited to announce that we are close to completing our to-do list and will be throwing the doors open on Friday 17th Dec for the first time! We cannot wait to be involved in this great community and looking forward to meeting you all. There is some availability still left for December if you wish to get booked in before the New Year. Feel free to pop your head in and say hello to us over the next fews day as we get ready to reopen!
Ellen, Thomas & Team."
Into The Woods, Chorlton
Into The Woods opened in 2019, concentrating on wholesome, hearty fare that shone a light on produce from local suppliers, such as Black Cat Bakery and Frost's Butchers.
It was a great idea at just the wrong time as the pandemic hit not long after the venue found its feet.
In an affecting announcement, the Into The Woods team wrote: "Dan opened up his business back in February 2019 before his twins were due. Because he wanted to have something for them to be proud of. Now starting up a business is never easy for anyone, especially with a new family on the way, but that didn’t stop him from working extremely hard everyday and dedicated himself in making sure that customers enjoyed their visits with ITW...
"For anyone who has got to know Dan will know this hasn’t been a easy decision to make, and we are terribly saddened and disappointed that it has come to this. We feel a real sense of failure in not keeping going. We have created some lovely friendships, a loyal customer base and created wonderful memories with the ITW over the years. But we need to think to the future and right now we need to know when to stop."
October saw the surprise announcement that Andrew Nutter would be selling his legendary Rochdale restaurant, Nutters, not long after the celebrity chef celebrated his 50th birthday in typically grand style. Perhaps the milestone birthday had prompted a reassessment as well as the strains of the pandemic.
The restaurant wrote on its Facebook page:
"To all our loyal Customers, Friends, Past and Present Colleagues.
"We are saddened to have to tell you that the time has come after 28 magnificent years that Nutters will be closing its doors. It had to happen one day and who would of thought when Rodney had the idea all that time ago, what a journey it would be.
"It has been a difficult decision to make but these last two years have been extremely challenging when the hospitality industry has a whole had suffered immensely. We wanted to go out whilst we are still at the top of our game and it had been increasingly difficult to do that in these times. Not to mention the fact that Jean isn’t getting any younger and as done such an amazing job throughout this time."
Customers reacted with surprise and sadness to the news, leaving many thoughtful comments.
Now: The team are still operating The Bird at Birtle pub in Lancashire as usual, and Andrew Nutter will be dipping his toe into private catering as a personal chef.
Oishi Q, city centre
"Oishi" means delicious in Japanese, the "Q" referred to, erm, barbecue? Yakitori takeaway Oishi Q certainly ticked those boxes for our reviewer when he visited back in 2013. Styled in the minimalist Japanese noodle cafe fashion, the spot specialised in skewers, mostly of chicken but also other delights such as quail's egg, prawns and various vegetables, while salads and donburi provided ballast. Sadly, in September the Oishi Q team decided to call it a day, writing on their social media:
"We have made the difficult decision to permanently close Oishi Q after 7 years of serving you.
"The situation with COVID 19 has affected us greatly and unfortunately has placed us in a position where we are unable to continue the business.
"We very much appreciate your support over the years and have enjoyed serving you. We sincerely thank you for your business and we will definitely miss you.
Thank you for being such wonderful customers and we wish you all the best."
The Pilcrow Pub, Sadler's Yard
The "pub that Manchester built" closed in the summer, after five years as one of Manchester's quirkiest pubs (and the competition for that crown is fierce). What made the place so unusual was how it came to be: volunteers made everything from bar stools to beer pump handles.
When closure came, operators Common & Co said: "We’ve had 5 incredible years at The Pilcrow, but our role in the stewardship of the pub that Manchester built has come to an end. From the moment we and our friends at Cloudwater first opened the doors to this beautiful little building, it has been a real joy to play a part in crafting a community around Sadler’s Yard.
"There were over 500 volunteers that contributed to its construction, furbishment, and launch, and we’d like to think that we’ve honoured the work put in by those people during our time in charge. There have been many highlights - our annual festival, Summer Beer Thing, maybe being the one that stands out most in the memory. Our only regret is that we’ve been unable to see out our term in a manner befitting such a unique boozer due to circumstances we’ve all been subject to this past year..."
Now: Sadler's Cat now occupies the spot, run by Cloudwater Brewery who were also involved in The Pilcrow. While many of the handmade features remain, Cloudwater has brought its own personality to the space. The food menu has been revamped and naturally, there are many beer-led events on the cards.
The Restaurant Bar & Grill, city centre
The Notorious RBG closed its doors in September, with Karen Forrester of owners Individual Restaurants commenting: “The closure of these sites is part of a long-term investment and development plan for the future of Individual Restaurants. Our main priority is to keep our people within our Individual Restaurants family by offering opportunities to relocate to other Individual Restaurants’ locations, we will be supporting them throughout this process.”
The John Dalton Street restaurant was a glamorous spot well known for boozy brunches on its terrace. The closure triggered a wave of nostalgia among those who could remember (at least partially) decadent nights out at the bar.
While not closing, some other venues have made significant changes to try and deal with the effects of the last couple of years.
Chef Mary-Ellen McTague announced that The Creameries in Chorlton will no longer be serving tasting menus and will instead operate as a neighbourhood bar from January. Mary Ellen posted: "This seems a good moment to thank the suppliers, customers, industry friends and press that have supported us - before, during and beyond the rollercoaster of the last couple of years- but I must make a very special mention to our staff. They have endured the ups and downs of recent times with immense fortitude and lent their blood, sweat and tears to this little corner of the restaurant universe. Thank you- you are all WONDERFUL."
Prices have changed in various ways too, with mana and District notably increasing the price of their tasting menus. District tweeted: "From November onwards our prices will increase. It is important that we are able to offer the very best British and Southeast Asian produce to our guests whilst paying all of our invaluable team a true living salary." The restaurant countered this tasting menu increase by bringing in a really great deal "development lunch" menu at £20.
Mana tweeted: "November reservations will be released at midday on 1st September. You may notice that our pre-paid reservation price will increase to £185.00. This is because we have chosen to remove service charge from our operation.
"You will no longer be charged a percentage of what you spend. Staff salaries have been increased to reflect this decision to enable a brighter future for them. This change comes at no dispense to our valued guests. but simply a more transparent offering for all involved.
"Our vision for the future of hospitality is positive, and we believe these changes to be necessary. Removing the questionable yet mandatory service charge is the first step towards our goal."
Meanwhile, Where The Light Gets In decreased the price of its tasting menu. Chef proprietor Sam Buckley told Confidentials: “I put the price down 30% because I wanted to democratise the fact that you can get good food. It should be accessible to all. It's now £75. That is fucking cheap… Seventy-five quid for 10 courses of food that people have gruelled over. The work that we do in that kitchen in the background, the way that things are sourced.
"That’s my conflict of interest. I want people to experience these amazing flavours and stories and to really be transported away from their lives for the night. I want them to have these wonderful evenings that we get in theatres and art galleries but I don't want people to have to pay like 700 quid between them.”
With Omicron hanging over everything this Xmas and booking cancellations in their droves widely reported, we hope the government steps in soon to support hospitality through these latest developments. The last thing we want is to lose any more restaurants.
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