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‘Dublin riots were final nail in the coffin for my café’

Grainne ni Aodha

Yesterday at 13:10#

A Dublin café owner has spoken about the challenges of high electricity bills, an increased VAT rate and rising staff costs – adding that the Dublin riots in November were "the final nail in the coffin".

Will Monaghan, owner of the One Society café on the corner of Parnell Street/Gardiner Street, said that the last 11 weeks were "the worst weeks we've had in two years" since setting up five years ago.

Restaurant owners have warned of a "crisis point" in their sector after a stilted two years during the pandemic, followed by huge energy bills, a VAT rate increase from 9pc to 13.5pc, and as customers have less disposable income due to the cost-of-living crisis.

A warehouse tax deadline of May 1 has also been highlighted as putting an extra strain on cafes and restaurants.

Mr Monaghan's One Society offers brunch during the day and operates as an Italian tapas and wine bar at night.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit things got tough, but the State subsidies from government were "really strong and kept a lot of businesses afloat, including us", he told the PA news agency.

"Then it got really tough from the start of the Ukraine war, because like everyone and every other business, costs started to spiral and there was no predicting where anything was going next," Mr Monaghan said.

"Those costs have, albeit, come down a little bit but they haven't gone back to where they were and they never will, in my opinion."

In the financial year to February 2023, "we had a record year of sales, we had a 15pc increase in sales on the previous year, but we made a €50,000 loss. And that only really hit in the last quarter of the calendar year, October onwards.

"So we entered 2023 with a massive problem - we either close our night time business or we try and reinvent ourselves which we did, so we reinvented into an Italian tapas and wine bar at night, and straight away it started performing.

"After nine months up to November just gone, we were looking quite strong and we looked like we'd turned around that €50,000 loss into a profit-making situation, which was incredible."

And then the Dublin riots erupted on November 23, just before Christmas, and a stone's throw from Mr Monaghan's business, and he said the area has "undoubtedly" been quieter since.

"If you stood in the middle of the crossroads (where the business is located) the night of the riots, you would have seen the Garda car on fire," he said.

"Unfortunately the riots meant we were a no-go area. We had a few Christmas bookings cancelled, which was understandable. We weren't able to recover and find business elsewhere because nobody wanted to come here.

"We were getting phone calls from people down the country asking if it's safe, and we said 'Yes it's safe, there's an eerie feeling about it, but the streets are the way they were'. But the perception unfortunately is the reality.

"If the perception of the area is dodgy to dangerous in the evening, that's why we're suffering so bad and that is not going to improve with the tourist season."

He added: "When I opened five years ago, people said 'You're mad'. And I said 'no, you haven't been there, it's up and coming, there's a lot of positivity, it's not a dangerous place, and it wasn't and I actually stand over that.

"Businesses trusted what the government said about regeneration, building up Mountjoy Square, and we put a lot of money on betting on the area that it would come good and it has come good, but it's now just been completely shot in the foot."

He is quick to say that he does not like giving out as there is a lot to be positive about his business.

"I hate having to be negative because we're in business five years, it should be a positive thing. We've great staff, we've great customers," he said.

Asked what can be done to help improve things, he said more gardaí, a separate, reduced VAT rate for cafes and restaurants, and a bit of investment on O'Connell Street.

"Boots on the ground, more garda visibility. Since the riots, I'd be in the restaurant eight hours-plus a day, and I've probably only seen 10 garda jackets going by since then... The public need to see it to feel comfortable."

Asked whether a regeneration of O'Connell Street would also help, he said "absolutely": "If you go to any major city in the world, you're drawn to the main street because it's something you want to see, eg, the Champs Elysees in Paris, Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

"Where you go to O'Connell Street and you just want to get through it and get out of there as quick as you can. You're supposed to marvel at the spectacle of a main street rather than scurry down, on edge, trying to get away from it."

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