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Flambé: How Manchester's Restaurants Are Burning Each Other Up

The Ivy, Manchester, on launch day, 2018

Was it a rooftop patio heater that started the blaze at Spinningfield's Ivy Collection restaurant?

The newly constructed 12K SF pavilion caught fire on Friday afternoon, 3 January. Fire crews were called at 5pm to the 535-cover restaurant, said to be the largest restaurant to open in the UK in 2018.  A patio heater is being identified as the cause.

Whatever started the blaze, the timing was symbolic coming as official paperwork revealed the financial woes of two other prominent Spinningfields restaurants, Manchester House and Artisan.

The trio of problems at Spinningfields come as the UK restaurant scene in general, and Manchester's restaurants in particular, digest several years of all-you-can-eat growth.

Research by CGA showed that as of June 2018, the supply of UK restaurants rose by 11% in the five years since the recession ended in 2013. Yet in Manchester the trend has been on fast-forward, with a rise of 35% in the number of restaurants since the end of the recession in 2013. Whilst it is true that Northern cities started with more modest provision, and thus grew more rapidly, Manchester's pace is exceptional: for comparison, Leeds grew 28% in the same period.

Tower 12, Bridge Street

Churn in the restaurant business is nothing new, but it is yet to be proved whether an innovative mix of dining and other uses combined with relatively new locations which have yet to weather a recession will hinder a restaurant's chances of survival. The troubles faced by two ventures at Tower 12, Spinningfields, make the point.

In October 2018 Living Ventures placed two of its restaurants into administration. Manchester House and Artisan were both in the 60K SF Tower 12 at Bridge Street developed by Allied London in 2012. At the time Living Ventures told the Manchester Evening News: "Like many other restaurants, we have struggled with balancing rising costs and high rents, together with localised access difficulties."

Administrators' reports filed at Companies House now add more detail to those complaints about rents and access difficulties. They reveal that the venues were "significantly disadvantaged" by the refurbishment of lifts, which meant only one was in use shared between restaurant customers and office workers in the 12-floor building, North West Business Insider reports.

At Manchester House, where dining was divided between the second and 12th floors, the effect was damaging. Customers began to look elsewhere, and when Living Ventures sought a rent cut or amnesty during the lift refurbishment, it got nowhere. A long hot summer also helped put diners off their food.

In December 2018 Manchester House reopened as Restaurant MCR under chef Aiden Byrne.

"Due to superb work by Greater Manchester Fire Service, The Ivy management and the Spinningfields management and security teams, the unaffected Ivy Brasserie and Ivy Asia will continue to operate as usual in Spinningfields," Allied London said in a statement to Bisnow. "In appreciation of Manchester's support, they're planning a Supper Party on 12 April to re-open the rooftop area." 

"Regarding Artisan and Tower 12, Allied London are not the landlord of these properties. Spinningfields continues to thrive as a dining destination, with a daily footfall of 17,000, and a constantly evolving offering which has brought brands such as The Ivy and 20 Stories to the estate, as well as providing opportunity for local independents such as Pot Kettle Black," the statement said.