Mackintosh's Canteen in Norwich; Photo: Bill Smith

Closure of Norwich’s Mackintosh Canteen ‘made sense’, owners claim

By BEN WOODS Business writer
Thursday, January 10, 2013
9.35 AM

The owners of Norwich city-centre restaurant Mackintosh’s Canteen have said it made “absolute sense” to shut down the business.

Analysis: Norwich independents must be protected

The boss of a Norwich restaurant group has hit out at the decision to allow a national chain to replace Mackintosh’s Canteen amid fears that the city is losing a key part of its character.

Jayne Raffles, co-owner of Raffles Restaurants, said the city needs to work harder to maintain its independent businesses, which are key to keeping business rates lower and providing an “inspirational” experience for consumers.

Mrs Raffles, whose Norwich restaurants include St Benedicts Restaurant, The Library and Pinocchios, said: “In any city centre it is important to have a mix of national chains and independents, but I think people are taking the independents for granted in Norwich.

“People need to try and make an effort to use them more and work hard to maintain them because in ten years there will not be any independents in Norwich because smaller firms will not be able to afford the rates.

“We will face a situation where we pushed out to the outside of the centre and Norwich will become like any other city.”

“At the moment, every shop in The Lanes is an inspirational place to be in. It is not like we are more expensive – a lot of the time we are better value.”

The announcement came yesterday as it emerged that 15 jobs would be lost, as restaurant group Animal Inns looked to concentrate on other pubs within its operation.

Jez Davies, director of Animal Inns, said the firm had taken up an offer by the Chapelfield Shopping Centre to hand back the restaurant on Chapefield Plain because it had come under increased pressure from restaurants surrounding it.

But Sheridan Smith, marketing manager at Chapelfield, said Animal Inns had expressed its intention to leave Chapelfield shortly after taking over the restaurant in spring last year – and it had made the offer when Gourmet Burger Kitchen had become interested in the site.

Mr Davies, who is keeping two staff members from Mackintosh’s, said Animal Inns plans to plough more investment into its remaining restaurants – The Wildebeest at Stoke Holy Cross, The Mad Moose in Norwich and The Hunny Bell at Hunworth, after investing about £150,000 in them last year.

He said: “Whilst it was a hard decision to make, given the history of Mackintosh’s to the group, it makes absolute sense.

“Animal Inns delivers a unique experience and its pubs are at the heart of that. Mackintosh’s sits outside this and we need to have clarity in both our offer and vision going forward.”

He added: “It had become clear that Mackintosh’s was coming under pressure because of the increase in other casual dining operations, including Carluccios, Ask Italian and Wagamama.

“We could see that this was the case, and it was not really part of our future. We had the decision to hand it back, so we took that offer.”

Yesterday, Chapelfield announced that national chain restaurant Gourmet Burger Kitchen would now take over the site. Ms Smith said: “Shortly after taking over Mackintosh’s Canteen in spring 2012, Animal Inns put forward an assignment application to transfer the lease of their unit to another operator and leave Chapelfield.

“This assignment did not go through, but Chapelfield started to look for a new tenant knowing that Mackintosh’s wanted to leave. When Gourmet Burger Kitchen expressed interest in the restaurant we offered this as a solution to Mackintosh’s to enable them to surrender their lease and close the restaurant, which they decided to do.”