Warning for independent eateries as another city centre venue closes

Malcolm Schooling   at Platillos  Leopold Square .
Malcolm Schooling at Platillos Leopold Square .
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Sheffield restaurateurs this week issued a rallying call for support following the closure of two of the city’s leading independent venues.

Artisan – which flew the Sheffield flag for 15 years in the prestigious Michelin guide – closed in December. Now it’s the end of Platillos tapas bar, the sole independent in Leopold Square since it opened in 2007.

Platillos resturant in Leopold Square, Sheffield.  Pic: Chris Lawton.

Platillos resturant in Leopold Square, Sheffield. Pic: Chris Lawton.

It follows the emergence of the city’s newest dining quarter, St Paul’s Place, at the back of the Winter Garden.

Both companies blame tough trading conditions, particularly competition from large chains which take advantage of bulk buying to offer heavy discounts.

And they are warning that, unless customers support their local independents, more failures are inevitable.

“I’m sure I speak for many other restaurateurs, as well as our group, when I say that if people want to see independent outlets remain in Sheffield then it’s a case of ‘use us or lose us’,” said Richard Smith, chef director of the BrewKitchen group and founder of Artisan at Crosspool.

Platillos co-owner Malcolm Schooling, who was also behind the revival of the Wig & Pen in Campo Lane, was “desperately sad” to be closing: “Personally we haven’t seen any upturn based on economic recovery,” he said.

“In Sheffield it’s going to continue to be tough, especially for the independents. Cooking real food, fresh every day, comes at a price but unfortunately not enough people are prepared to pay a little bit more.”

Meadowhall was a big factor for Sheffield restaurateurs, he added.

It was difficult for restaurants to create demand on their own – particularly with increased parking costs.

“There is a wholesale lack of vision and leadership in the city council. In the past ten years we’ve had to fight them when they should have been welcoming innovation and investment.

“The new retail quarter was seen by the council as a panacea to the shortcomings of the city’s retail offer and, once that was put on ice, there has been nothing in response, no creativity.”

Richard Smith said the BrewKitchen group was now battling to rise to the challenge: “Obviously everywhere is different, but it’s important to remain positive. Looking ahead, we have 30 weddings booked at The Beauchief this summer, and the Cricket Inn is a city favourite the second the sun comes out. In an ever-evolving market place an independent group such as us will always look at change, whether that means buying new sites or selling existing ones and, indeed, moving in and out of sectors.”

It was not all doom and gloom.

Gian Bohan, co-owner of Nonnas, said: “It’s still hard and the independents have to do a lot to make any money. “January is normally Armageddon, but it’s been a lot more positive this year. Hopefully that will filter through to confidence and people will spend more.”