The renaissance of the independent restaurant

Peter Gwizdala Arlingtons
Peter Gwizdala at Arlingtons. Photo: Ellen Widdup

The closure of chain restaurants could pave the way for independent eateries to thrive, one Ipswich businessman has claimed.

In the wake of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant group falling into administration, Peter Gwizdala, who owns Arlingtons in Museum Street, said independent businesses can adapt to the market.

The collapse of the celebrity chef’s restaurant group, which includes Jamie’s Italian chain, Barbecoa and Fifteen, has led to 1,000 jobs being lost.

Mr Gwizdala said: “It’s sad for all those who worked at Jamie Oliver’s restaurants, but I hope that some independents may be able to take on a few of the trained staff.

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“As I see it, his restaurants were built upon the fact and hope that his name would bring in the business, and perhaps it did at the start, but at the end of the day restaurants have to be led by people who not only have a passion for food but who can react to changes in costs and tastes.

“Independents have that ability.”

He added: “It is true that food prices have risen dramatically over the past few months and the national minimum wage has increased but as an independent, I think that we are able to absorb fluctuations a little more easily.

“It is when there is a gradual and constant increase that the bubble bursts which is what, it seems, has happened to Jamie Oliver’s chain.”

Restaurants are working in a competitive market and contend with the rising cost of food, the increased cost of staffing and the popular choice of downloading a boxset on Netflix and ordering a takeaway.

And it is not just Jamie Oliver’s restaurants which have been hit, other eateries to announce a raft of closures have included Prezzo, Chimichanga and Giraffe.

Mr Gwizdala, managing director of Arlingtons which is housed in a Grade II-listed building, said independent businesses have the advantage of being able to keep a tight rein on costs, unlike chains which struggle to be as responsive to volumes and food trends.

“At Arlingtons, our menu changes regularly and reflects the food available at market which the seasons deliver in a constantly changing kaleidoscope of fresh produce,” he said. “The chains just cannot compete – even with their mighty buying power.”

Arlingtons offers a menu which is 50% vegetarian and 25% vegan and includes gluten-free options which broaden its customer base.

Mr Gwizdala added: “There is one overriding reason why eating at an independent restaurant such as Arlingtons should be your top priority.

“We know exactly what goes into our food. It is all freshly prepared and we use local suppliers.

“I went to a mid-range high street chain recently and had the carpaccio of beef which was really very good. When I asked the waiter what cut of beef it was, having asked the chef, he replied ‘I don’t know guys, it didn’t say on the packet’.”