Speaking at Restaurant magazine’s R200 conference yesterday (20 March), Harts director Crispin Somerville said the group initially overstaffed the restaurants, after being reassured by landlord Argent of a huge rush of Christmas shoppers at the King’s Cross development.
He said a generally challenging retail trading environment, overly niche retail concepts, and a weather-exposed shopping space had contributed to a slower than anticipated start.
Despite the challenges, Somerville said the group’s Barrafina, Casar Pastor, Plaza Pastor and The Drop sites had been busy from day one, and had accounted for 30% of turnover of the entire scheme in December.
He told R200 that Argent was listening to concerns and looking to improve the retail offer and environment of the £100m scheme.
“We are at the behest and mercy of the landlord, and exist within the framework of – let’s call a spade a spade - a shopping centre.
“The landlord insisted we open on 26 October with their anticipation there would be a traditional huge rush of shoppers from November onwards. We staffed restaurants accordingly, but this couldn’t have been further from what unfolded.
“This illustrates our main challenges. It is the fact that retail is taking a hammering, and Coal Drops Yard perhaps isn’t attracting the kind of shoppers it needs to. The footfall has been lower than the landlord confidently predicted.”
Somerville said the group had undertaken its own marketing, including giving away £75,000 worth of food by way of promotion, with the restaurants becoming destinations, rather than relying on shopper footfall.
“This was very successful for us,” he said. “We’ve been busy since day one, and had a busy Christmas period.”
The exposure of Coal Drop Yard’s main courtyard to the winter elements has made it a difficult environment for customers, Somerville added.
“January to be frank was pretty desolate,” he said “What dawns in a month like that is the transposition of the beautiful Heatherwick renderings of what the site would look like, to the reality of what is quite a challenging courtyard.”
“It’s a vast expanse, and the public have found that quite challenging in terms of dwelling there.”
“Coupling that with retail offering which hasn’t had full connection yet, and the simple fact this is whole new part of London.
“Because of these open spaces, we are realising that Coals Drop Yard is very much at the mercy of the weather. When it’s cold, it’s really cold.”
Despite this, Somerville said the group was optimistic about the summer and praised Argent for addressing the issues.
“We are very fortunate with the landlord,” he added. “They are very progressive, very communicative. They’re listening.
“Collectively it’s turning out to be quite a joy working with them because of their responsiveness.
“They’ve spent close £100m on Coal Drops Yard, and you can see the effect it’s had on the rest of Kings Cross. They’re very considered. We’re witnessing that in their reactivity to these challenges.”
Harts Group will open its fifth restaurant in the King’s Cross development in May. Called Parillan, it will be located outside Barrafina and have tables fitted with parilla grills to enable diners to cook their own dishes chosen from a para picar menu.