‘Greasy spoon’ cafes close doors as today’s diners shun fry-ups | Restaurants

Bonnie’s cafe in St George, Bristol, was something of an institution. Offering fry-ups for breakfast, dinner, and what one reviewer called “a delicious experience.” “the strongest cup of tea in BS5”It had been in existence since 1996. But it was no longer making money. It reopened as a cafeteria and Mediterranean restaurant a few weeks ago.

Suat is its owner “Sam”Tezgel blames gentrification and changing eating habits. “When I came to the UK in 1996 I’d never heard of gluten-free or vegan food,”He said. “It was all about fried food. I am a chef and wanted to make a living, so this is what I did. But in the last two years especially, the area is changing. I noticed different types of customers coming in. They were asking for more healthy foods like fresh fish and halloumi.”

Bonnie’s is not alone. It is only one example of many. “greasy spoons”to have been closed down completely or repurposed in the recent past. The Shepherdess, on City Road in Hoxton is the capital. It was a fixture for over 40 years, with celebrity clients like Jamie Oliver and All Saints. It was forced to close last year due to rising rents. Even the UK’s most famous fictional iteration, Kathy’s Cafe of EastEnders fame had a recent brush with threatening developers.

James Hacon, a hospitality sector expert, estimates that there have been a lot of closings in the past few years. “is many thousands, maybe even tens of thousands”.

“In the past couple of decades we’ve seen the rise of branded pub, fast food and coffee shop venues: think JD Wetherspoon, Pret and Costa,”He said. “These brands offer good value with a focus on consistency, often across multiple meal times – directly pulling custom from the traditional cafe or greasy spoon. Even petrol station forecourts and convenience stores see food on the go as big business.” There have been other pressures too, with traditional cafe offerings perhaps considered old-fashioned by younger consumers – millennials have long been caricatured as fans of smashed avocado – and processed pork products linked to cancer and obesity.

Greasy spoons have been replaced by The Breakfast Club, Soho, that offers avocado with its bacon-and-eggs.Photograph by Alex MacNaughton/Alamy

But this newspaper’s restaurant critic Jay Rayner believes the decline is the result more of social change than food fashion. “The indicator was that these places usually had funny opening hours – 6am to 3pm, typically – and the reason was that they were all about providing highly calorific food to people who needed it as they were working physically very hard in manual jobs. And the reality is that there are far fewer people in these jobs now.”

Rayner said: “Many cafes were founded by first-generation immigrants whose children or grandchildren don’t want to work sixteen-hour days keeping the family business going when they can instead go into a profession. But there is a social cost when they go.”

These immigrants often came from Italy. Station Cafe in Treorchy, one of the last survivors, had been in business for 84 years before it closed its doors in May 2019. Dom Balestrazzi, the owner, was ready for retirement, and his children were not interested in taking over. “It was particularly sad for my husband, as he had spent practically his whole life there,”Virginia, his wife, was the one who ran it for more than 40 years. “But it was also sad for the wider community. We had no idea of the strength of feeling until the final days when so many people got in touch.”

Writer and photographer Adrian Maddox documented many of the country’s archetypal cafes in his 2003 book Classic Cafes.

“I became obsessed with a particular type of cafe – the signage, the Formica tables, the fonts of the menu, the windows, the counters, those giant silver tea urns,”He said. “And I spent years documenting them. But then as I finished the project I realised I’d also been sounding their death knell.

“Most of the places I photographed have since gone – it’s been depressing to learn of each new closure.”

Bruce Gill, a filmmaker who documented the decline of the traditional cafe, is another person who has contributed to the story. Award-winning documentary about Caledonian in HuddersfieldIt was just shy of its 50th year anniversary in 2018. It is now an Italian pizzeria.

“You can’t get a full English and a cup of tea for £4 any more,”Gill said. “A bit of Huddersfield’s soul was lost. It’s so sad. It was an extraordinary asset for the town.”

The Dalby in Margate, Kent has been around since 1946. However, it only became national attention when rock star Elvis Costello made it famous. Pete Doherty managed all the food “mega breakfast – a local challenge. Owner Mark Ezekiel said: “We get Londoners down who miss a fry-up because their local has closed. But even with big numbers coming in it’s hard to make any money when costs are rising from wages to utilities and ingredients. The best thing that could happen to our trade is a VAT cut.”

There are signs of hope in spite of this challenging climate. The few Classic Cafes listed that have held on to their faith are reporting an improvement. Pellicci, east London’s, and the Workers Cafe, Islington, are full of young hipsters. The Regency is in Pimlico. “alt tourism” trails.

There are many places that repurpose the caff tradition. The Breakfast Club, offering both avocado and egg and bacon, prices its full English iteration at a not insignificant £14 – but has still has queues outside its dozen branches.

A Jay Rayner tip: Norman’s in Tufnell Park celebrated its first anniversary last week serving reasonably priced classics such as ham, egg and chips (£7.00) but with refinements like a wine list. Founder Richie Hayes said: “We grew up eating in these kinds of places and have always wanted to open our own cafe serving the classics. We are doing all right.”

It was with reluctance that Sam Tezgel decided to close Bonnie’s. For him, however, a restyle of Laila, without any traces left of greasy spoon, might prove more profitable. “People no longer want fry-ups,”He said. “Something had to change.”

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