Furious cafe customers deliver 23,000-strong petitions to Hampstead Heath bosses

A public meeting has been called on Wednesday to support Parliament Hill Cafe

A public meeting has been called on Wednesday to support Parliament Hill Cafe - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Two petitions with more than 23,500 signatures in total were delivered to Hampstead Heath bosses in protest at their plans to hand over much-loved community cafes to catering chain Benugo.

Alberto d'auria at Parliament Hill Cafe

Alberto d'auria at Parliament Hill Cafe - Credit: Nigel Sutton

As first revealed exclusively in the Ham&High the City of London Corporation decided behind closed doors to hand over leases for the Parliament Hill Cafe, on Hampstead Heath, and The Refreshment House, in Golders Hill Park, to the chain and kick out the families who have run them for decades.

The decision led to a furious community backlash supported by politicians and celebrities protesting at the move and threatening to boycott Benugo.

A public meeting has been called tomorrow evening at Highgate Library, in Chester Road, with a protest picnic organised next Sunday from 1pm at Parliament Hill Cafe.

More than 13,000 people have signed a petition against the move at the Parliament Hill Cafe which will see Savoy-trained chef Alberto D’Auria, 70, and his family kicked out in May after 33 years.

They include former Spice Girl Mel C, rapper Professor Green and former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell,

In just a fortnight, more than 10,000 names have been collected on the petition to back the Pazienti family, who have run The Refreshment House since 1973,

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This comes after the relatives of Miriam Hyman, who died in the 7/7 terrorist bombings supported the cafe in Golders Hill Park where they held her funeral and meet every year on July 7 to remember her.

Alberto D’Auria, from the Parliament Hill Cafe, was among the protesters outside the Guildhall yesterday as they delivered the petition to City’s director of green spaces Sue Ireland.

He said he was overwhelmed by the strength of feeling and is not ready to hang up his apron yet. “Our customers have been coming in to say they don’t want us to go and started this petition”

“I am very angry and sad at the way we have been treated after so long and that its taken six months for them to decide. We have been improving our service and keeping prices low and keeping local people happy.”

The Corporation has been accused of “putting profit before people” and ignoring the unique nature of Hampstead Heath and the social needs of the community in awarding the lucrative contract to the most economically advantageous bids.

Highgate ward councillor Sally Gimson, who sits on the committee and voted against Benugo, said: “It was a close vote at seven to six and some of us are really cross.

“Essentially the Parliament Hill Cafe has been handed to a large chain. It’s almost as bad as if it were a Costa coffee. Benugo is gradually taking over all British institutions, from Regent’s Park to major museums and galleries in London.

“The procurement department did not take into account the special nature of the Heath and the social value of having a local company run the cafe.”

The chain runs catering facilities in Regent’s Park, the Barbican Centre, Lincolns Inn Fields, and museums throughout London.

But Sue Ireland said: “We have a duty to run our services in the most cost-effective manner as it is only by doing so that we can invest ?£5million a year into Hampstead Heath.

“We have ensured throughout this process that the winning tenders will be able to demonstrate not only high quality refreshments, but also that they can offer a service which is at the heart of the local community.”

Benugo founder Ben Warner said: “We were delighted to be asked to tender to work with London Parks in these three, very special locations, and are looking forward to being able to bring our fresh, high-quality, modern British food and flavours to these unique venues. We are of course mindful that in some cases we will be inheriting established food operations and are confident that our vision and menus for these spaces will be embraced by their local communities.”

See our website for a report of the public meeting at Highgate Library and Civic Centre which begins tomorrow night at 7:45pm.