Independent restaurant owners aim to keep Chester special by fighting back against the marketing power of the large chains.
This week restaurateurs from The Yard in City Road, La P’tite France in Bridge Street, Meze in Frodsham Street and Istanbul BBQ in Brook Street met Chester MP Chris Matheson who is concerned about the influx of big chains to the city centre.
It irks hardworking small business people every time they read about the Pepper Street ‘Dining Quarter’ because they wonder what gives large companies the right to market themselves so blatantly by unofficially naming an area of Chester.
A computer generated image of the second phase, released by the developers, even includes a huge sign featuring the ‘Dining Quarter’ name.
Ernesto Sciarrillo, from Italian restaurant The Yard, said: “We brought it to Chris’ attention because we feel strongly aggrieved about the ‘Dining Quarter’ name that’s bandied about in the papers and by the marketing companies working for the big chains.
“We are trying to see if we can get our independents’ name on a map. We feel strongly that Chester is all about independents and that’s why the tourists and visitors come here – to see the independent shops, restaurants, hotels and cafes. We have a strong independent sector in Chester really.”
“We’re passionate about our city, we’re passionate about our love of people and we want to keep Chester’s independent businesses,” added Ernesto, who said a ‘Chester Independents’ group would be formed to promote their sector.
Talking about what makes independent restaurants stand out from the crowd, he added: “We’re all local people. We use local produce and it’s all freshly cooked in-house. It’s about quality and local produce really.”
Fred Lolliott, from La P’tite France, in Bridge Street, said since launching three years ago huge chains had opened all around him, impacting on his trade.
He continued: “We’ve got the most beautiful city in the UK – I’m pretty sure about it as a French person – and you’ve got people coming for the weekend saying ‘I don’t think we’re going to come back, we thought Chester was more like small shops, small restaurants. No, you’ve got Piccolino, you’ve got Côte Restaurant. We can get the same in our city. Why come to Chester just to visit the Walls?’.
“It’s annoying when you talk to them at the end and shake their hand and you say ‘See you on your next visit’. ‘I’m not sure we’re gong to come back because I think we’ve seen everything about Chester’.
"I say: ‘Really? You haven’t seen The Yard, you haven’t see Istanbul BBQ, you haven’t seen the small shops’, because the big names are massive and they just take over.”
Chester MP Mr Matheson wants to help form ‘Chester Independents’ group and promote the national Independents’ Day on the first Saturday in July.
He is organising meetings with the leadership team at Cheshire West and Chester Council and Chester Growth Partnership to see what can be done to fight their corner.
And Mr Matheson ‘needs to speak’ to the CH1 Chester BID company which is funded by city centre businesses with the aim of promoting Chester Plc.
Mr Matheson said: “These are people who work their socks off providing something different, something that’s individual in Chester and as you can see from The Rows and from our history, Chester has thrived on its individuality and offering something different from other cities.
"They see big chains coming in, with large marketing budgets, that swamp out all of the independent traders. They want to come together, use that collective strength and sell themselves and sell their individual restaurants as part of a collective effort.”
Mr Matheson said when he and his family enjoyed a meal out they would ‘normally’ go to one of the independents.
"They care so much about their business; the quality and the service is so much better,” he said.