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Popular Cardiff cafe looks set to close

The owner of The Secret Garden Cafe, Melissa Boothman (pic: Melissa Boothman)

A POPULAR Cardiff café which has survived a pandemic, floods and the cost of living crisis looks set to close after being told to leave by the council.

Following months of unsuccessful lease renewal negotiations, The Secret Garden Café in Bute Park has been served a notice to quit by Cardiff Council and will have to leave its current premises by August 2.

The café has raised thousands of pounds for Bute Park and invested more than £100,000 into its business during the five years it has been in operation.

Owner Melissa Boothman said she thinks the move represents “no acknowledgement of the good that we are doing,” and that the work done by the café has not been considered.

Cardiff Council said a direct award of a lease renewal for the café could not be made because its tenancy has expired and “a new management agreement and associated lease are now required”.

The local authority also said that the café can bid for the new lease when it starts a procurement exercise in June.

Melissa said: “I just never ever imagined that it would turn out this way. I am just gutted as well – really gutted for me and my team and also for the community, for all of the Bute Park visitors and the community which comes and uses this space.

“This is a real oasis spot for people and it is not just about coming to get a cup of coffee. It is about it being a really open and welcoming space where all people from all walks of life can walk through the door and they will be greeted with a big smile.”

“It makes me really sad that that is not valued by the council and that it can so easily be dismissed, not considered and just pushed away.”

The Secret Garden Café’s lease was due to expire in March, but the council has agreed for the business to stay where it is under an interim arrangement, known as a tenancy at will, pending conclusion of the procurement exercise. The tenancy at will comes to an end on August 2.

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Bute Park suffered an arson attack and a spate of vandalism in September 2021 which resulted in more than 50 trees being destroyed.

In July 2021, the park was the scene of more serious crimes after father-of-two Dr Gary Jenkins was murdered and just days before, in a seperate incident, a woman was raped.

Melissa decided to organise the Reclaim Bute Park event in September as a show of solidarity following these events.

The café ended up raising £5,000 to repair the park and replant trees. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the business made 6,000 meals for the NHS and over the past five years it has raised just under £18,000 for different charities.

Melissa said it is “devastating” to be served a notice to leave after years of investment in the business and community work.

She said: “Anybody who has set up their own business will know what it takes to start a business and to run a business, a small business. You give it everything.

“You give it blood sweat and tears. You make sacrifices in order to make this business a success.”

In their statement, Cardiff Council said: “The tenancy of the current operator has expired and come to end, and a new management agreement and associated lease are now required.

“On this basis, a direct award could not be made, and a procurement exercise is being undertaken.

“The Council has agreed for the operator to continue in occupation under an interim arrangement, known as a Tenancy at Will, pending conclusion of the procurement exercise to appoint an operator of the facility, under the terms of the new lease.

“It is anticipated that the procurement process for the management agreement and associated lease for the Secret Garden Café will commence on 5th June.

“The tender opportunity will be openly advertised to the market through Sell 2 Wales and the procurement portal, Proactis.  

“We welcome bids from operators, including the current tenant, to manage the site and continue to offer access to toilets in the park, as well as maintain the site’s facilities and offering, for the enjoyment of visitors to Bute Park.”

Melissa said she understands that the council is within its right to put the lease back out to tender, but added that the move doesn’t make sense to her.

With the notice to quit having been served before the council has received various bids and decided on an operator, Melissa said it has left her with little time to act.

Even if Melissa decides to re-tender for the lease, she said she has still been served with the notice to quit and has just three months to tie up the business under the current uncertainty.

She said: “Wrapping up the accounts, ensuring that you give your staff enough notice… it takes six months to properly close down a business, so three months isn’t enough time and then you have got to think about your stock and running stock down.

“Anxiety, sleepless nights, muscle pains, headaches, it has just been constant for eight months and just really emotional.

“Then you have got to think about the amount of time it takes to clear this building. What are we going to do with all of this stuff? It is a big task.”

Cardiff Council said the procurement process is expected to last six weeks, with a view to the successful operator being installed or, if the current tenant puts in a bid and is successful, starting to trade under the new agreement in early August.