Sudden closure of former Novelli Harpenden pub

CUSTOMERS looking forward to an evening of good food at a gastro pub in Harpenden were told it was closing when they arrived.

The White Horse in Hatching Green closed its doors on Friday, January 7, just moments after staff were told the restaurant was to shut straight away.

Staff had been informed earlier in the day that the restaurant would be closing the following day and, it is claimed, were asked not to reveal that news to customers. But when workers arrived to start their shifts later that evening, management informed all staff that the restaurant would be closing immediately.

Waiting staff were allegedly asked to tell customers who had begun to arrive for their evening meal that there was a gas or electrical problem and that they had to leave.

A former member of staff, who asked not to be named, said: “Earlier in the day the management had called a meeting and informed us that this would be our last shift.

“We had thought this closure might happen as we didn’t have a proper menu and certain things were not in stock or reordered. Lots of the staff felt that it wasn’t making money although we never knew for sure.”

Prior to the closure, flyers had been sent to prospective customers telling them that for that Friday evening only, the White Horse would be having a party at which there would be 30 per cent off the food bill and bottles of wine at discounted prices up to 40 per cent off.

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The former employee added: “The speed at which it happened and what we were asked to do was quite dramatic and many of the customers who had arrived were really confused. I heard later that one group booking had been for a lady’s 70th birthday and they’d been sent away and I just hope they were able to find somewhere to celebrate it.”

Urban and Country Leisure Limited (UCL), which ran the White Horse, said the decision was regrettable and while it had turned around a loss-making restaurant since taking it over from celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and begun to make a small profit, the company could no longer justify maintaining the White Horse, particularly during such an unforgiving economic climate.

A spokesperson for UCL said they had approached Enterprise Inns, which owns the White Horse, on more than one occasion to try and buy the property and develop it further but had been unable to do so.

UCL will now focus on taking its Lazy Cow brand of restaurants to small towns and cities and hopes to make a significant investment in that brand over the next few years.

The spokesperson said the Lazy Cow brand could come to Harpenden in the future if sites were found that were suitable.