The owners of one of Dublin’s best-known restaurants, Coppinger Row, have given their staff redundancy notice, as their landlord has decided to develop the building and put the lease on the open market.
As a result, the restaurant, named after the street it has operated from for 13 years, will close on December 31st.
Marc Bereen, who owns the business with his brother, Conor, told The Irish Times that the situation had left him “devastated”. He fears that, as an independent business, they will not be able to compete on the open market against larger hospitality groups in the city or international brands with access to much more capital.
Aviva, which owns the building, says it will begin development works in early 2022, seeking tenants for the ground and upper floors of 57 South William Street as well as a tenant for the ground-floor restaurant at 1 Coppinger Row.
“As the fund manager, Aviva must, at all times, act in the best interest of its savings and pension investors,” a spokesperson told The Irish Times.
Aviva says finding new tenants for the upper floors will bring “more life into the area”, which “has been high on Dublin City Council’s agenda for some time”.
Coppinger Row began as a business plan 15 years ago, opening as a restaurant in 2009, and paying rent to a receiver overseeing various properties – a common recession-era arrangement that helped usher in a new era of contemporary Irish cuisine.
The Coppinger Row building was once part of the so-called Madrid Portfolio, owned by the developer Bernard McNamara. Friends First became the landlord when it acquired the building in 2016, before Aviva took over Friends First, in 2018. The Friends First Irish Commercial Property Fund, made up of 40 retail, commercial and industrial properties, is now owned and "actively managed by Aviva to optimise the returns", according to Aviva.
Bereen stresses that Coppinger Row has had good working relationships with its landlords. Aviva agreed discounted rent during the pandemic, which many restaurateurs and business owners achieved when they were shut down during lockdowns.
The restaurant has operated on rolling short-term leases, including a four-year-and-nine-month lease. This common lease arrangement falls below the threshold of a five-year lease, upon which the tenant has a right of renewal.
After the Coppinger Row lease ran out in September 2020, Aviva offered a month-by-month lease, which Bereen says is impractical for a restaurant, given the nature of bookings, planning and staff employment. The latest agreement with Aviva involves closing the restaurant on New Year’s Eve.
Bereen had taken a lease on a building next door, in the expectation that the restaurant – which survived the pandemic, and has had a healthy booking rate since it reopened – would expand, not shut.
He is pessimistic about acquiring the lease when it goes to market given the level of financing available to entities Bereen describes as “the big players” in the Dublin hospitality market.
Bereen says the current boom in high prices for leases and buildings is “a frenzy” that favours larger businesses. “There are opportunities out there for people in a positive financial situation, but it’s going to be the rich that get them. It’s not going to be the creative people ... We’ve survived a worldwide recession, we’ve survived a worldwide pandemic, all we want is our little patch.”
“I’ve spent more time around South William Street than anywhere else,” he says. “For the first seven years I waited tables at lunchtime, at nighttime; it was my whole life. I met the mother of my child there. We’ve made amazing friends – staff and customers. It’s been a wonderful journey, and I’ll always remember it as that, but I don’t see why that story should end.”