I was sorry to read of the demise of the Spudulike chain this week. They are another victim of overblown High Street rents which make life so difficult for retailer tenants of every description. I think with a bit of creative thinking there was a solution for Spudulike.
Started in Edinburgh in 1974 it had a simple and compelling rationale – if you fancied a baked potato for lunch, this was the go-to destination. Americans and Europeans were bemused by the concept; for them, baked potatoes are a side dish, not the main event. But by the million we Brits enjoyed tuna and sweetcorn, beans and cheese and coronation chicken stuffed into sweet, soft potato flesh. With an average spend of only £6 or £7 per customer, it was cheap and nutritious, but the outlets needed thousands of diners every week just to pay the rent, and with High Street footfall decreasing the sums just didn’t add up.
Food trends are volatile and difficult to predict. 30 years ago the idea that restaurants just serving hummus and pitta bread, or tapas, or udon noodles could flourish in every High Street was barmy. The local Chinese takeaway might have offered a delivery service, but who could have predicted the meteoric rise of Deliveroo and Uber Eats? But some trends up means other trends down, and Spudulike were one of the victims. They are of course in good company – Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain folded earlier this year, and Prezzo and Café Rouge have closed many of their outlets. As well as the Spudulike failure, this week brought news that Domino’s Pizza are losing their CEO; the victim of a franchisee war and an inability to expand beyond the UK.
I wonder if Spudulike has folded just a few months too early. If fresh food imports will be a casualty of a no-deal Brexit (as has been widely predicted) then hummus, tapas (olives and chillies are recurring ingredients) and noodles might go into short supply, but the trusty old spud is homegrown and doesn’t need to be imported. The same goes for many of the topping ingredients - cheddar cheese, chicken, eggs and prawns – and the bits which are imported like tuna and beans all have long shelf-lives and can be stockpiled.
So if I was a senior Spuduliker I would have approached the landlords and sold the concept of jam tomorrow in exchange for mercy today. A few months rent-free now followed by a gradual return to normal rents as the post-Brexit food shortages bite, and baked potato sales go up.
Do you think this is a stupid and scare-mongering idea? You might be right. Or not.