Licensing restrictions are ‘mission impossible’ says Wanstead cafe manager

A historic Wanstead cafe’s request to open in the evening and sell alcohol was granted with “ludicrous” restrictions that will make it impossible to turn a profit, the owner says.

The Bungalow Cafe opened in Spratt Hall Road, Wanstead, applied to the council to close at 11.30pm on weeknights, midnight on the weekend and 11pm on Sunday.

The cafe’s previous opening hours were from 7am to 3pm every day except Sunday, when it was closed.

The council’s licensing committee heard objections from neighbours when it met on October 14 to discuss whether to grant the change. Councillors decided today they would allow the cafe to offer food and alcohol only until 10pm.

The committee also decided alcohol cannot be served or consumed in the external patio area, which contains most of the cafe’s seating, and use of the outdoor space must end at 8pm.

Stavros Nicola, the manager since 2011, said he planned to appeal the decision once he had soundproofed the outdoor space.

He said: “The restrictions on it are ludicrous, it’s mission impossible. Even if I took this on, with the restrictions they put into place, there’s no possibility it could become a profitable business.

“I’m going to have to enclose (the outdoor space) first and then, once it’s enclosed and soundproofed, I will resubmit.

“I will do everything in my power to ensure that this place is not closed down. I want to ensure that I do not have to let any staff go and that this place remains a landmark in Wanstead.”

Due to social distancing, the inside of the cafe can only accommodate four tables and the majority of the cafe’s tables are in the covered patio space outside.

Mr Nicola said the business was struggling to cope with the pandemic, with the latest Government restrictions reducing takings by a further 30 per cent “minimum”.

He said: “I have got nothing against the council, I do not think anyone wants to harm the Bungalow in any way.

“When they are pressured by a few local neighbours, they have got no choice but to bring it forward.”

He said some of the 38 objections submitted to the committee seemed “a little OTT (over the top)”.

Objector Daniel Martin wrote that the cafe already attracts “generally loud” customers who “frequently use unacceptable language that can be heard across the surrounding streets”.

He said: “This… disturbing change would rip through the heart of our community and transform the local streets into a threatening and potentially dangerous environment.

“The cafe’s large outside area would generate an incredible amount of noise if filled with customers consuming alcohol.”

In their decision, published today, the sub-committee acknowledged both that the cafe faces a “significant challenge” from the pandemic and the “significant opposition” from residents.

They added that granting the application as submitted “would cause unacceptable noise disturbance to residents” and “problems with parking”.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter