Have you ever taken the time to consider why so many independent restaurants and once-thriving pubs across Reading are closing down? 

Following the well-documented fall of the Grumpy Goat, it seems we can barely go a week without reporting news of more closures.

Across the UK, thousands of businesses across the hospitality industry have closed down in the last year, citing out-of-control ground rents, spiraling bills and a rise in people not turning up to bookings as reasons impacting their business. 

Here in Reading, more than 9 businesses have closed since the start of 2023. This includes La De' Kitchen Express and, The Spice Oven. 

The Chronicle visited a number of independent restaurants dotted around Reading to get the full story about what is really causing so many seemingly popular and successful restaurants to fail.

One of Reading's oldest and most iconic independent restaurants is the pie shop Sweeney & Todd's on Castle Street.

But even being as well-known and loved as this 45-year-old brand doesn't shield them from current market conditions.

The manager, Craig Hayward, whose mother June set up the restaurant back in 1977, said things haven't been "this bad since the 80s". 

They are currently attempting to get by without putting their prices up despite a 35 percent increase in ingredients and an 'exceptional rise' in energy bills.

Reading Chronicle: Craig and June Hayward

Mr Hayward said: “I don’t think it’s been this bad since the 80’s. One of our biggest expenses at the minute is energy costs which have gone up 25 percent and we have found that it has made a big difference to our bottom line.

“The biggest change we have seen since Covid is that there has been a big downturn in people coming into the restaurant whilst our takeaway is a lot busier. It’s never been that way.”

Although the owners do not have the problems that leasing a shop comes with, they said that they are ‘dreading’ renewing their mortgage this year due to the increasing rates over the last few years.

Craig added: “It has been difficult but as long as people keep coming and supporting us we are just going to keep going as long as we can.”

Valpy Street Bistro, on Valpy Street, is another popular Reading eatery that has given the Chronicle their point of view on the situation.

Andrew Norman, who opened the business in the old Chronicle's building in 1996, described the current situation as unprecedented and precarious.


He said: “It is very tough. We just don’t have the buying power that the big boys do, and we’ve lost about 15 percent of our profit.

“I think what people don’t realise is that Covid caused initial problems which most of us could have easily got past eventually, but then rather than having a chance to get out of it, all the prices went through the roof.”

With four minimum wage rises in the last few years, this has quickly become one of the biggest expenditures for independent businesses with a team of full and part-time staff.

Andrew added: “That’s what every small business is facing. The government just do not consider what’s going on now or if they do, they certainly aren’t bothered - which is crazy because hospitality is a massive contributor to the economy.

“What’s going to happen is that all these places that Reading is crying out for - and there aren’t enough as there is - are going to be forced to close. If I were thinking of going into this industry now, I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole because it just doesn’t stand up financially.

“It is a dying industry, and it is a real shame because Reading so needs it.”

This comes as there are more than 10 closures every day across the UK hospitality industries. According to industry data the number of licensed premises in Britain fell by 3.6 per cent from 103,682 to 99,916 in the year to September.

One business that is currently struggling has just celebrated its first anniversary at the new Caversham location.

Clay’s moved into the old JD Wetherspoons pub The Baron Cadogan in February 2023 and despite thriving in the community, rising inflation and steep rent increases are difficulties that the restaurant will have to muddle through in 2024.

Despite the difficulties that everyone is coping with, there has been one universal positive that these restaurants receive, and that is support from the local community.

In a social media post celebrating their first anniversary at the Caversham location the owners said: "I'm filled with optimism and determination. Your support is our strength and we promise to never take it for granted."

If these restaurants feel that the community is behind them, hope that the storm will soon pass, making way for an even stronger town.