Moules a go-go on Watergate st row are leaving their home for the last 16 years and moving to Cuppin St in the unit which the closing down La Tasca will be vacating. Moules specialises in mussels and sells at least 300kg a week of the seafood which is mainly sourced from Menai and cooked in 6 different sauces.
The owner Duncan Ryles and some of the long serving staff discuss why, and their excitement about “moving house”.
Duncan who has been on the row for 22 years, previously managed Dos Americas. “It’s going to be sad to leave but we’re confident that the new site is going to be better for us. We’ve been planning this for 6 to 8 months now. We came to the end of our lease, the choice was to renew for another 10-15 years, or move. Over the last 5 years things have changed quite a lot in Chester. ”
“Retail is dead” argues Duncan. ” There’s a whole generation coming up who never intend to shop. What used to be the high street is now heavily restaurants and food. Pepper St has no shops left, Bridge st is more food than retail. Gradually the high street has changed, the rows are not sustainable, with walk in business going straight to street level. ” He says that the new site offers the same rent as Northgate row but is in a more high profile location. The fomer Moules site will be taken over by a Greek restaurant. “It’s a good operation , they have 2 restaurants already in Preston and Lytham St Annes”.
Sous chef Martin Moss who has worked in the restaurant for 7 years, agrees that the row is “dead” and is excited by the chance to take a different direction. “When I first came to Chester it was the rows that people came to see. Its the only city in the world that has them, its a shame.. Not being on street level has had a massive impact”. He says that the team have grown into a family , and that he met his wife and best man in work. His feelings are echoed by chef Paula Skeoch who says “I love this place.” Paula who is leaving to open her own cupcake stall in Chester market, also views her co workers as family. “The rows are very quiet , especially this street , there’s not much to attract people” she says.
To regenerate the rows, Duncan’s solution is simple. “Slash the rents, slash the rates. ” He says that on Watergate st traders at row level have to pay 60% of the street level rent, but get 2% of the footfall. If they cut them in half, you would allow start up companies to come in and have a go. ” While he accepts that rates are set and collected centrally, he says that in Watergate St the council own 10 shops and “they let them lie empty for years not collecting rent, paying the rates to central government and costing the taxpayer a fortune”.
Duncan also sees the proposed Northgate development as offering only false hope to the retail sector. “I love Chester and would love to see something happen on Northgate, but it is purely for the developers to make money. There aren’t 50 shops in Britain that want to come here. They won’t find a department store, the cinema want to come but there is no parking! The theatre will be fabulous, the guy running it is brilliant… but they have moved the bus station which isn’t a clever thing. ” He feels that the development will lead to the “utter devastation of the Grosvenor precinct and the loss of Browns of Chester. The only thing that will go in is retail that moves out of Foregate st and the Grosvenor. In the last 5 years whenever any shop has closed, no new shops have moved in, its always been people moving”.
“What Chester needs is a mix of independent and chains. There are several independents flourishing. When we go to Cuppin st we can become part of that like Fattoria, Joseph Benjamin and many others. The future for Chester is bright if we can get a good mix of … We’re flying the flag for independents ! We can’t wait to move and it’ll be a fresh start for everyone. We are very confident! .”
Moules a go-go on the rows will close on the 14th May and reopen in their new home in early June.