The Irish Times view on the future of Bewley’s, Grafton Street
The coffee company’s staff have every reason to be steaming
In May, Bewley’s announced plans to close the cafe permanently, citing the impact of the pandemic on trading and its frothy €1.5m annual rent, which accounts for about 30% of annual sales. File photograph: The Irish Times
Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street is Dublin’s most famous coffee shop, dating back to 1927. So there will be relief in many quarters at the news in recent days that Bewley’s has decided to reopen the café after all. It has been shut since March 16th when restrictions were imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus.
In May, Bewley’s announced plans to close the iconic café permanently, citing the impact of the pandemic on trading and its frothy €1.5 million annual rent, which accounts for about 30 per cent of annual sales. This led to a backlash on social media against its landlord, property developer Johnny Ronan. In the meantime, Ronan Group Real Estate, went to court to seek payment of rent arrears that had built up during the lockdown. Bewley’s has had a long-running dispute with Ronan over the rent. An attempt at mediation broke down and Bewley’s has now agreed to pay €749,000 in arrears and interest costs, and indicated that it will reopen the café on condition that Ronan withdraws the legal proceedings.
Bewley’s, which is owned by artist Paddy Campbell, has cited the changing trading environment, State supports for businesses impacted by Covid-19, and the realisation of “existing assets” among the reasons for its change of heart over the course of just four weeks. It’s all the more surprising given that Dublin city centre is something of a ghost town at the minute with no tourists and few office workers to feed.
The company’s 110 employees have been caught in the middle of this squabble. They were told in May that the café would not be reopening and were made redundant at the beginning of July. With few other jobs vacancies in the pandemic, this will have been devastating news. Even word of the reopening brings no certainty that they will be rehired.
Bewley’s has yet to announce a date for reopening and there is a growing sense that the café will have a slimmed down offering to reflect the ‘new normal’ of social distancing and other restrictions. Staff have every right to be steaming. This has not been Bewley’s finest hour.