St Albans cafe owner fears going out of business when supermarket sells bacon rolls
PUBLISHED: 09:18 28 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:07 28 February 2019
A St Albans businessman is outraged that plans by a supermarket chain to sell hot breakfasts could threaten the future of his independent eatery.
Gelsomino Picciuto, owner of The Smokehouse Deli on Cell Barnes Lane, has been providing hot food and drinks to the local community since it opened in 2014. No-one thought it would work, according to the owner, but they have built up a steady customer-base of passing trademen, local residents and parents on the school run.
But now the business has been put at risk by proposals by the neighbouring Co-op store to start serving breakfast.
The supermarket is already selling coffee, which Gels said has contributed to a 35 per cent drop in his takings.
Gels said: “We moved into the Cell Barnes area where there was no café, no refreshments and no refuge for people close by.
“The Co-op is directly infringing on my business. They should not be able to sell coffee, but now we have found out that they will soon be selling hot breakfasts like bacon rolls.
“I am outraged! We should not have our toes trodden on by a huge corporation.
“People should be aware of what goes on - how hard it is for independent businesses to compete with giants.”
He warned that if his business goes under he will have a £165,000 liability and five local people will lose their jobs.
Gels added: “I just want a quiet life to run my business with fair rule. I am extremely concerned. Co-operative? I don’t think so!”
Keith Titmus, 87, of Ennerdale Close, is a regular customer of The Smokehouse Deli. For him, it is an important community hub. If he does not arrive for coffee, the staff check on his welfare.
He said: “When the place first opened I went in there and I have been going there four or five times a week ever since.
I always look forward to going there. I have met a lot of people I had not met before and it has become like a family to me.”
“When my wife Margaret was unwell, Gels very kindly dropped some homemade chicken soup round to our house.”
Another customer feels the same.
Paula Walker, 44, of Cell Barnes Lane said: “This place has transformed the area.
“Lots of people come here who wouldn’t be able to make the distance into town. I have been poorly and I come here and it’s familiar to me and I know everyone. I don’t even need to say what I want as the staff know nearly everybody and what they usually order.
“From a community point of view, it would be absolutely terrible if the Smokehouse Deli were to close.”
Gels contacted Cunningham ward councillor Geoff Harrison for help, but he told the Herts Advertiser: “The council does not have a policy of exclusivity of shops in a small parade so there is not currently anything much that can be done.”
Cllr Harrison is alluding to the fact that some councils have policies which manage the types of shops permitted to trade in one area, to prevent unwanted competition.
A Co-op spokesperson said: “Cell Barnes Lane’s Co-op is set to receive investment in 2019, as part of our extensive store re-fit plan. The re-fit will improve the shopping experience for our members and customers, especially ones that are looking for a convenient way to enjoy food on-the-go.
“In our experience, we often find that enhancing the current offerings within our stores attracts more shoppers to the area, which will benefit all local shops and traders.”