Customers rally behind Parliament Hill Cafe owners as future hangs in balance
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
Customers of the Parliament Hill Cafe have rallied behind the D’Auria family who have run it for the last 33 years as they look set to be pushed out in favour of a larger catering company.
As reported in the Ham&High The City of London Corporation has tendered out the three-year lease for the much-loved cafe, on Hampstead Heath, along with leases for Highgate Wood cafe, the Parliament Hill Lido cafe and Golders Hill Park cafe and will make a decision this afternoon and announce the winners on Tuesday.
Savoy-trained Italian chef Alberto D’Auria, 70, whose family has run the cafe since 1982, said: It looks certain that we have not won the tender.
“I feel very sad. Local people say they love us. I have been told I will get a phone call with the result on Tuesday but it seems certain we will have to leave.”
Jazz guitarist John Etheridge, who has been coming to the cafe for thirty years, said: “The current situation works really well here. If anyone came here they would see the quality experience. Maria does the cooking, and she is great.
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He said: “I don’t like change, and I don’t think we should have it if we don’t need it. Franchising will sacrifice the cafe’s personality. There would be different cooking, different management. Generally prices go up and quality goes down.”
Leeroy Murray, 70, who has been coming to the Heath all his life, said: “It takes years to build up a community and you cannot buy that. The cafe has a very friendly communal atmosphere.”
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“At lunch time families come in, people from the One O’Clock Club come here. It’s very family orientated.”
“The Heath is part of the community.”
Jon Russell, who has been coming to the café for 10 years, said: “Who swaps the Savoy trained chef for a franchise? What madman would want that?”
“You have to listen to the people not the accountants. Franchising would lose the different groups of people that come in here. This is like a family restaurant,
Ella Southgate, 40, who has been coming to the Heath all her life said: “It’s so nice that it’s the same people. They know what you want before you come in. Alba (the owner) always asks; ‘Are we treating you well?’” The report to the Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood and Queens Park committee refuses to name the recommended winners for “commercial reasons”.
But it reveals that the new company recommended to take over the Parliament Hill Cafe offers “a well-designed and modern menu...·based around a new wood-fired oven.”
It describes the company as “a high quality catering partner with extensive experience in open space environments... with greater company central support available for the lease”.
Mr D’Auria said: “That is not us..I feel very sad. Local people say they love us.”
Son Alfonso, 39, who runs the family wholesale ice cream business and had planned to take over running the cafe from his father, said: “It sounds from that description like it will be a big commercial company, or a pizza chain.
“My dad is going to be very upset at the end of the day, its been his life for 33 years.
“But the high price they were asking made it commercially unviable for a small family business. Whoever comes in now will have
to double prices to make any profit.”
Members of the committee are also being asked to approve four further leases for the cafes in the Parliament Hill Lido, the Highgate Wood Cafe, The Golders Hill Park Cafe and the cafe in Queens Park.
Highgate councillor Sally Gimson, who is a co-oped member of the committee and is a regular user of the Parliament Hill Cafe, said: “I have been contacted over the weekend by many of my constituents who have expressed their concern. Everyone loves this cafe. It is like an institution and everyone knows the owners. People will be really sad.”
A spokesman for the City of London Corporation declined to comment.