A group of MPs, journalists and lawyers have formed a co-operative in a bid to save what they say is London’s favourite restaurant.
Together with staff at the Gay Hussar in Soho, they have formed an industrial and provident society and launched a community share issue. They aim to raise £200,000 to help secure the restaurant’s lease for the next eight years.
The co-op’s directors include former editor of The People Bill Hagerty, left-wing journalist and author Mark Seddon, cartoonist Martin Rowson and former head of policy at Co-operatives UK John Goodman.
Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East and honorary president of the Goulash Co-operative, said the venture aims not only to maximise the restaurant’s potential. “The Gay Hussar, as we all know, is part and parcel of a rich culinary, journalistic and political tradition,” he said.
“This is a model that’s worked well elsewhere, and given the traditions of the restaurant, the solid customer base and the enormous goodwill that exists, we believe that our plan provides a sound new long-term business base.”
John Cryer MP (Labour, Leyton and Wanstead) submitted an early day motion as part of the campaign. “The restaurant's long-standing and loyal staff have not been consulted in any way,” he told the house. “The Gay Hussar has played an important role in the culinary, political and journalistic life of the capital for more than 60 years and as such is an important national institution.”
The EDM “applauds any initiative, including a possible diners' and staff co-operative venture, as a means of keeping the Gay Hussar alive for future generations of rebels and Rabelaisians to enjoy.” It has been signed by 29 MPs.
Current owner Corus Hotels is putting the restaurant up for auction following a dip in sales, which has been attributed to the recession. But the co-op’s business plan sees the restaurant returning to profitability by the end of 2014.
The co-op plans to increase dining capacity, extend trading hours and offer new menus including snacks and coffee. It also proposes more co-operation and joint sponsorship of culinary and media events, for example joint ventures with Politicos Publishing, the Guardian, the New Statesman and the Tribune.
On the cards are a series of sponsored dinners with editors of national press, broadcasters and social media, a sponsored annual lunch for political and trade union leaders and a lunch and sitting with Martin Rowson.
Mr Watson says: “The Gay Hussar must be able to capitalise on its powerful brand, connections and resonance in the political and media worlds. These are just a few of the plans that we’re considering.
“This is our one chance, not only to give a new lease of life to a great restaurant, but to show that there’s a better way of organising and running a venture, one that’s co-operative in nature.”
The minimum investment in the co-op is £500, and the legal maximum £20,000. For more information see its website.