ANYONE WORRIED about the creeping corporatisation of Dalston should stop reading now.
Pret a Manger is opening a huge shop on the site, above, in Kingsland High Street. The chain will offer soup, sandwiches and croissants and baguettes, heated if preferred.
It will seat up to 96 people, which is a change of style from than the usual sandwich-and-coffee-or-tea-selling Pret.
You don’t get much more corporate than the admittedly innovative Pret. The sandwich chain’s two founders vendor opened their first Pret in July 1986 near Victoria station SW1E 5ND.
A year ago a family of German billionaires bought it for £1.5 billion, which is not widely known because, oddly, Pret still cannot shake the Big Mac image.
It even ran a publicity campaign to emphasise its sale by the American giant. To little effect: a Google search today turned up an FAQ about McDonald’s and Pret.
There are now 530 Prets in the UK, others on the Continent and some in places as far east as Singapore. The company’s press people would not speak at this stage about the Dalston opening.
Gentrification is a word sometimes barely understood. The millennials who bemoan what they term gentrification would never have wanted to stay in Hackney if the creativity and drive of their fellows, ie, the gentrifiers, had not changed the look of the area.
Of course, this has happened all over London’s zones 1 and 2 but nowhere more so than around Hackney, where the success of new and quickly fashionable restaurants, clubs, galleries and coffee shops steadily raised property prices, both commercial and accommodative.
Early this decade new venues such as Dan Beaumont’s Dalston Superstore inevitably boosted the image of the borough, attracting talented young people from the provinces and around the world who saw Hackney as a place where they could make their plans reality. Hipsters young style-setters, started to fill the streets by day and the clubs, pubs and bars by night.
Property developers saw their chance and were soon persuading the middle classes of China, Arabia and Russia to invest in new flats in blocks around Hackney, sometimes before they were built. Despite a plethora of new buildings, rents zoomed, driving out many local residents. Tragically for those Hackneyites, some of the investment flats were unoccupied, and still are, as prices have relentlessly risen.
Hackney council was not slow to cash in by raising council tax, which is having the paradoxical effect of forcing out some of the businesses that prompted the rise.
An example was the fate of the Russet café, about which you can read in the Backstory at the end of this article.
One of the most significant recent closures has been Rotorino, opened in Kingsland Road E8 4AA by garlanded chef Stevie Parle. Forfeiture Of Lease signs have been pasted to the window of No 434.
At the other end of the foodie spectrum, a similar sign shows that Gina’s Pizza and Coffee at Martel Place off Dalston Lane was also unable to keep up the lease.
Some groundbreakers such as Mouse and De Lotz, a coffee shop brave enough to open in Shacklewell Lane when the nearby green was notorious for prostituters and kerb-crawlers, have been among the entrepreneurs fortunate enough to find buyers for their businesses.
Many other catering-based firms have collapsed; others are struggling. Failures in the coffee-and-dining market created by its once-young trailblazers have not deterred corporates such as Premier Inn and Travelodge cashing in on the resultant gentrification with well-placed hotels.
More closures lie ahead — as do more complaints about gentrification. Forward-looking businesses will shift operations to zone 3 or beyond, as, for example, Logan Plant did when he moved his Beavertown Brewery from De Beauvoir in Hackney north to Tottenham.
Such churn and change in business and their sometimes disastrous effect on property prices has been happening for generations. As Charles Booth’s Victorian Poverty Map showed in the late 1800s, little is new.
David Altheer 130519
* Pret a Manger is expected to open at 25Kingsland High Street, Dalston E8 2JS, this summer 2019
* Backstory: Who’s buying at Dalston Junction; Hackney Downs Russet café falls to its gentrification; Prince George fears ‘bourgeois arrivistes’ in E8; In Shoreditch, world first’s Boxpark?; Hipsters reject Guardian’s Shoreditch brew; Hackney eateries to love/avoid
* All pictures on this page © DavidAltheer [at] gmail.com, and all for sale for reproduction. Most photographs are available in bigger formats
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