A popular cafe will not reopen at Trentham Shopping Village – after a dispute over post-lockdown rent charges.
The Bakehouse Cafe Bar opened in 2015 with a five-year lease and had operated at a loss every year.
Owner Gareth Thomas had expected to make a profit in 2020 and wanted to sign a 12-month lease.
But he says a ‘fairer’ contract was not forthcoming and he has decided to quit the shopping village.
Slowly but surely, some eateries across Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire have been re-opening – albeit with new social distancing guidelines firmly in place.
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The 39-year-old, from Clayton, said: “I grew up in Stoke-on-Trent and we went to Trentham Gardens when we were kids. I learned to waterski on the lake in the 1980s – it was fantastic. It was a great place and everyone from the area would go down there at the weekend when the weather was nice.
“I graduated there and when Trentham invited us to move onto the site we were so excited.
“I’ve been there for five years and lost money every year. This year’s forecast – pre-pandemic – predicted a good year. It looked to be our first profitable year after five years of hard slog. We were going to turn a corner.”
The cafe shut down at the start of the coronavirus lockdown. Gareth says it is unfair for businesses to be charged pre-pandemic rents until the hospitality industry gets back on its feet.
Gareth added: “We are not getting any customers during the lockdown, and trade won’t return to 2019 levels straight away. Trade won’t be the same for about two years.
“Trentham Shopping Village has one of the highest rents in the city, and you can’t survive on just a few customers. You need to be busy all through the summer and every weekend.”
Gareth says he was offered a lease at 2019 rent levels.
He added: “If I was to pay full rent, I’d be bankrupt in six weeks. I can only sign a contract which I know I have a good chance of paying for. This isn’t my decision, my hands are tied.
“It would be better if they charged us a percentage of our turnover for the next two years as we all try to build up trade again. I’ve put every penny I’ve ever had into this business.
“Even if we were to reopen, half our seats would have to remain empty due to social distancing. Even if we were busy we wouldn’t be taking our usual revenue.”
Bakehouse Cafe Bar employed eight members of staff, including Gareth and wife Rakha Begum-Thomas. The couple are currently running Gareth’s parents shop – London Road Bakehouse, in Stoke.
Gareth added: “We are running the shop for my parents as they are in their late 60s. We open every Friday and Saturday from 7.30am to 1pm.
“At first I was keen to close but the number of people who couldn’t get flour from supermarkets was overwhelming and I realised we were providing an important service for lots of people.
“Only one customer is allowed in at a time, and we are taking extra precautions handling money. Customers are enjoying the relative normality of the shop.”
Gareth is now hoping to move his business from Trentham to Newcastle-under-Lyme.
He added: “The atmosphere is lovely at Trentham, but we’ve not even had a chance to walk around the lake. It’s so expensive to be there, and we don’t get the trade to justify it and so we struggle all the time to make ends meet there.
“I’d really like to move to Newcastle and do something there. Craft beer is huge in Newcastle, so it sounds like a great idea.”
Trentham Estate is disappointed to see the cafe go.
Director Alastair Budd said: “It is really disappointing to see that the Bakehouse Café Bar has decided to leave Trentham Shopping Village. It has been a popular eating out venue here for over five years, gaining some lovely customers who will, like us, miss the cafe.
“However, these are very uncertain times for retail, and even more so for those in the hospitality business. Without knowing a potential opening date for their business nor the full extent of the new measures required to meet the new normal, it is incredibly difficult to plan a profitable way forward.
“As a small, independent café, it is understandable that they have taken the decision to close their business and we fully support them in that and wish them well with new ventures.”
Trentham Estate closed down on March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Trentham Garden Centre reopened last week after the Government relaxed restrictions.
Mr Budd added: “We are working hard with all Trentham Estate tenants to ensure that we provide a safe environment for customers and are providing assistance in helping them with their in-store reopening plans and systems.
“With such a vast portfolio of different occupiers, we are working with them on an individual basis to manage both our and their businesses at a sustainable level.
“We are working hard to open Trentham Gardens and the shopping village. We can’t wait to start welcoming staff, tenants and visitors back to Trentham, just as soon as it is safe to do so.”