The consensus that this current economic downturn will be very different from those of even the recent past was sadly reinforced with an example from the restaurant industry this week now that it has been revealed that Tom’s Kitchen has gone into receivership – although it continues to trade.
This restaurant is one of three belonging to chef Tom Aikens, part of whose moody portrait by Christopher Terry is shown here. His signature restaurant, Tom Aikens, backed by the Bamford family of the JCB business; Tom’s Place, an upmarket fish and chip restaurant which was forced to close quite recently after complaints lodged by the neighbours; and Tom’s Kitchen, a modern, informal eating space which arguably owed a great deal to Canteen in design and approach.
One of the weaknesses of Aikens’ approach is that all three restaurants were very close to each another and in Chelsea, where rents are amongst the highest in the capital (although he had plans to open in Canary Wharf!). But this news has shown that even the widespread media coverage that Aikens garnered is no guarantee in these difficult times. And, as ever, it shows that the principal losers may not be the chefs or the restaurateurs themselves.
Aikens’ plight became obvious to certain suppliers about a week ago when they were surprised to receive calls from the restaurant trying to place orders for goods that the restaurant had not recently bought from them – a sure sign that the restaurant’s line of credit with its usual suppliers had dried up. And while, as so often with restaurants, the Inland Revenue remains the largest creditor, it is believed that several small suppliers have been hit very hard indeed.
It is rumoured, for example, that one small meat supplier is owed over £15,000 while one fish supplier has outstanding debts up to three times that much. Neither, nor any of the others in this situation, is likely to have credit insurance and will probably never see any of this money.
Hence the new twist to the current downturn. Chefs, encouraged by journalists and the media in general, have been encouraged to go out and source their ingredients from small, local suppliers because that is what is quite rightly considered to be best practice. The converse of this is that the chefs and the restaurateurs, who expect the best from their suppliers and will reject anything they do not consider to be up to scratch, must fulfil their side of the bargain and pay these suppliers as promptly as they can. These small-scale producers must not be used as an alternative source of credit.
If they are, and there are rumours circulating about bigger restaurant groups already, then the restaurants could bring down quite a number of suppliers in their wake. And some of the massive improvements in British produce that have been enjoyed by so many over the past decade could very easily be undone.