As Brasserie Blanc announces it is to close its Birmingham restaurant, blaming high rents on the decision to pull the plug, we ask just how bad this nationwide problem could get.
BRASSERIE Blanc has announced its intention to focus on its branches serving local communities outside of city centres.
The move came as the chain was forced to pull the plug on it`s Birmingham restaurant due to the city`s high rents.
Brasserie Blanc - named after famed international celebrity chef Raymond Blanc- is to close its Brindleyplace restaurant after selling it to the Individual Restaurant Company, who will renovate and reopen the venue as an Italian diner.
Brasserie Blanc issued a damning statement blaming high rents for the Birmingham outlet`s demise, which had forced the group to try to "push water uphill".
John Lederer, a Brasserie Blanc executive, said: "This sale reflects our intention to focus our attention on the new style Brasserie Blanc concept serving local communities away from the high rent attached to major city centre sites.
"The reputation of Le Petit Blanc suffered as a consequence of the administration in 2003 of that company and we have found the repositioning of the restaurant in Birmingham to be a particularly unfulfilling task.
"Rather than continue to push water uphill we have decided to focus on growing the Brasserie Blanc business in those old locations that are trading excellently and in our new ones."
Staff at the Brindleyplace eaterie have been told that jobs will be available at the new Piccolino`s restaurant when it opens for trading in April or May.
Brasserie Blanc general manager Steve Gething said: "The restaurant has been sold by Brasserie Blanc to the Individual Restaurant Company and it will be converted into an Italian restaurant.
"We are just waiting for the landlord to agree to the transfer and then we will get a date for closure which will be within the next five to seven days.
"There is sadness at the closure - some of the staff have been here a long time - but it is also the start of a new chapter for the restaurant. It is not going to be left an empty shell.
"Raymond was still heavily involved here in planning the menus. Myself and the head chef saw him three weeks ago."
The Brindleyplace restaurant has had a chequered history, with its parent group collapsing into administration in 2003 after group debts of £1 million, owed to around 200 creditors, piled up.
The restaurant and its sister UK eateries were later sold to Loch Fyne Restaurants and again changed hands in October 2005 following a £21.8 million takeover deal.
The problem of high rent rates in city centres has dogged the industry for years. In November last year, Restaurant magazine examined the perils of opening in Manchester city centre.
Paul Wootton, restaurant editor, said at the time: "Rents are high and there`s only a small city centre population, which makes pulling in punters from Monday-Thursday a difficult game.
"Of course, there are plenty of success stories, but these tend to be smaller operations with lower costs, that pitch themselves just above the high street offering and `not too poncey`, as a Manchester friend of mine put it."
The move by Blanc to pull out of Birmingham is symbolic of the nation-wide march of identikit city centres - awash with Starbucks, Wetherspoons, Nando`s and Wagamama, yet lacking in individual outlets which provide some local character and identity to these heaving masses of concrete.
The obvious fear is that by inflicting such high costs on small or independent restaurants in city centres we could be stifling an entire generation of chefs.
Talented cooks who come to the bright lights of the city brimming with ideas and enthusiasm could soon find their main job requirement is to microwave a stodgy carbonara which has just been unloaded off the back of the branded delivery trucks to keep costs to a minimum.
It`s not just the city consumers who miss out when restaurants are forced to close, it`s the chefs themselves.
You can read Lucy Britner`s interview with Raymond Blanc in the next edition of PubChef magazine out Thursday March 6.
- Are high rates forcing restaurant`s out of city centres? Is there a danger that this could force independent or small restaurant groups out into the sticks? Let us know.