Dear Reader: Too many Harrogate restaurants + small numbers, big effect

Restaurant wars in 2017 - Celebrity chef Gino DAcampo arrives in Harrogate.
Restaurant wars in 2017 - Celebrity chef Gino DAcampo arrives in Harrogate.

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Are incomers such as The Ivy and Jamie’s and CAU and Gino’s good for Harrogate or not?

The Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers.

The Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers.

It’s not the first time this question has been raised during 2017, not even by me, it has to be said.

But it’s a question which refuses to die.

I raise it again for the simple reason that a reader kindly got in touch the other week to complain about the influx of ‘chains.’

This gripe had some teeth, though.

Before putting pen to paper, or fingers to iPad, rather, the reader had gone to the trouble of doing some research on the subject in his own time one night earlier in December.

What he discovered, he says, makes for “depressing reading.”

At one town centre restaurant, eight tables were occupied out of a total of 35 to 40.

At another there were diners at two tables.

One could only boast a single table.

One was completely empty.

And another had a “closed down” sign on its window.

By the way, I’m not going to labour this point much further.

As a snapshot of the food and drink scene, it’s worrying for the future health of the town’s independent restaurants, though, it’s scarcely a scientific study.

This particular reader’s conclusion is a dramatic one – “there’s going to be a blood bath in the New Year,” he warns.

Before anyone starts crying “bah humbug” in this festive season of good will, I do have a confession to make.

It may not quite be a case of sleeping with the enemy but one of my favourite moments of 2017, speaking completely personally, was when I stood toe to toe with the Italian TV celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo on the ground floor of what was about to become the latest chain restaurant to open in Harrogate.

It’s always the same names that crop up, the same people who run things.

The longer I’ve worked on this newspaper the more I’ve realised this applies to almost everything.

From running clubs to community galas, charities to action groups, from the arts to sport, a small number of dynamic individuals always seem to set the pace.

It’s true there’s a sea of helpers below the surface but nothing happens without a driving force.

Interviewing a minor legend of the 1960s in the Spirit of 67 multi-media arts event I co-curated independently last summer with Harrogate’s RedHouse Originals gallery, made me aware that it’s probably the same the world over.

The man in question was Mike McInnerney.

He was the artist who designed the cover of The Who’s classic album Tommy and co-organised the legendary 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexander Palace in 1967.

In London at the height of the ‘Swinging Sixties, he told the audience, there was probably no more than 100 people in the city who actually made a difference.