The future is uncertain for a cafe at the heart of the community, after London-based landlords confirmed they would not renew its lease.
Barista’s cafe, situated in the centre of the Aberafan Shopping Centre, was due to renew a 10-year lease at the beginning of March, but mid-February received notice from the landlords, Edinburgh House Estates.
Costa Coffee is rumoured to be a potential new tenant for the unit, but a spokeswoman for Edinburgh House Estates confirmed only that a “High Street brand” has been lined up to take over.
The move sparked local protests, with 2,000 people signing a petition to keep the cafe open, and more than 50 attending a protest at the shopping centre last week.
Regular customers are still hoping the landlords may change their minds.
Three women who became friends after they met at the cafe, have said it is “disgusting” that the cafe could close. Gwyneth Jones and Shirley Clarke, both from Cwmafan, met Anne Lewis from Briton Ferry at Barista’s.
“We’ve been coming here since it opened,” said Anne Lewis. “We’re like a family here. It’s amazing the number of friends I’ve made. People meet here every day – it’s like a social club. The owners put their heart and soul into running the place.
“There’s one 90-year-old couple who come here every day. The lady brings her husband, sets him up at a table and then goes to do her shopping, knowing he’s got people keeping an eye on him. It’s a community service as much as a cafe. I can’t see me coming here if it closes. The centre will lose a lot of trade.”
The cafe is owned and run by Lynne and Tony Wintle and Debbie and Ray Oglesby.
Lynne said the phone call informing them the lease would not be renewed was “a shock”.
“There’s been no default on the rent, no reason to think we wouldn’t have the new lease,” she told the Magnet. “The business is doing well. The first we heard about it was the call, and then we had letters the next day. We are heartbroken.
“We have lots of regular customers who come every day. We have two cooks and all the meals are home cooked and really good value. The most expensive dinner we serve is our pasty dinner, which comes with mash, swede, carrot, mushy peas and gravy, for £5.25. I can’t see a high street brand providing good value food like that.
“We employ 10 members of staff and they mostly have families to support. It’s hard to get jobs and we are worried for them as well.”
But landlords Edinburgh House Estates, which owns a portfolio of 17 shopping centres around the UK, said they are surprised by the uproar. They told the Magnet they had approached Barista’s at the start of the year to offer them a new lease, but were “pushed back”.
A spokeswoman said: “We approached Barista’s coffee shop in January about the lease renewal for the café and were sorry that the terms of the proposal were not taken up Mr Oglesby. Although Barista’s later showed interest in renewing the lease, we had already entered into an agreement with the high street chain for the space and so were no longer able to offer Barista’s the lease.
“We don’t want to see a local business close, so have been working proactively with Barista’s to try and find a suitable alternative space for the café – potentially in the shopping centre or in the high street. We’re continuing to support the café while they relocate.”
Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock hopes to meet Edinburgh House Estate later today to negotiate on behalf of Barista’s.
He said: “As the end of the lease approaches, negotiations between the Barista’s and the owners are at a delicate stage and need to be handled carefully. Protests and petitions are all well and good, they have shown the strong support the business has in the community, but what’s more important at this late stage is the negotiations and focussing on a positive outcome for this local business.”
Local Assembly Member David Rees has also written to Edinburgh House Estate today in the hope Barista’s can stay in the shopping centre.