'We've reached a boiling point and that needs to change'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 4th August 2020

Yesterday, chef Selin Kiazim announced the permanent closure of Fitzrovia's Oklava bakery + wine following a loss of footfall due to Covid-19.

The bakery, which replaced the chef's former concept, Kyseri, after the restaurant closed in December last year, had set off to a resounding success, but since reopening - as many other London venues - suffered the consequences of fewer people working in central offices. 

Having opened just eight weeks before lockdown, Selin explained, it didn't have the benefit of loyal customers to see it through these difficult months. 

"We were so pleased with how it was going, it was being received really well and we were cautiously optimistic for the year that we could really make something of it", she said. 

However, it just didn't have enough time "to build enough of a following and embed it into people's minds," she said. 

The chef and co-founder of Oklava, who appeared on Great British Menu in 2017 and 2018, said that the Shoreditch restaurant, in contrast, is faring relatively well, as customers have returned in reasonable numbers.

"We've been open for five years and it's become a regular for people, it's established itself." 

Open only in the evening Tuesday through Saturday, the chef told us that restaurant is operating at around two thirds of capacity, a laudable feat considering its location. 

Thanks to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, the restaurant is booked up early in the week, but reservations for the weekend are still slow. And with no scope for opening at lunchtime and the loss of 12 outdoor seats come autumn, it is far from plane sailing. 

"Hopefully that'll pick up - there's only a small pool of people that are actually going out at this point." 

As for whether she would consider reopening a Bakery + Wine concept in the future, she said: "Unless there's a vaccine or a strong treatment that would snap everything back to some normality, a model like what we had there just won't work."

The rent issue

Ultimately, Selin explained, unless the government comes up with a solution to the rent problem, the end of the lease moratorium in September will bring about another wave of closures. 

"Some people are saying offices aren't back until September, or January, or I've heard next summer.

"There will inevitably be some kind of new normal," she said.

 "With rising rents and the cost of operating a restaurant in London, we'd reached a boiling point and that would need to change towards favouring tenants a bit more, to encourage people to reopen sites or open new sites.

"If you're going to have less people around in London - which is what it's looking like, there's not going to be that premium anymore." 

"I know that for myself: if it's not more in tenants favour, I'm not going to do that to myself again."

Having reached a "stalemate" with the landlords at the Shoreditch site, she said, "that's a big burden and it's hard to see beyond that."

"We're doing our best to follow the code of conduct that the government released and essentially share the burden - which considering we've taken nothing for all of those months and we're still offering something, I think is very generous - but they're not accepting it." 

"I understand that it's their businesses and they want their rent - it just seems inevitable that the government need to step in and tell us what we all need to be doing." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 4th August 2020

'We've reached a boiling point and that needs to change'