Multi-award-winning bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana — aka Mr Lyan — has announced that Cub, the the restaurant he opened with chef Doug McMaster and Dr Arielle Johnson, in the autumn of 2017, will permanently close.
On Instagram, Chetiyawardana wrote: “Sad News. Sadly Cub will not re-open post lockdown. I know there’s so much more important hardship in the world to address, but this is tragic to us — mainly due to what Cub stood for; Cub was the baby of the group, and like all the others in the family, it was designed to challenge.”
That challenge principally concerned the notion of food waste and sustainability, with the food overseen by McMaster, who now runs Silo in London, but had led a modern, chef-driven approach to waste and recycling at his restaurant in Brighton. Dr Johnson arrived at the Cub project having worked as the resident scientist at Copenhagen’s Noma and head of research for MAD Symposium.
In an email, Chetiyawardana told Eater that it was not feasible to operate the 35-cover restaurant and bar with one metre social distancing. “Safety has, always been our priority — especially when we’ve played around with some weirder ingredients over the years! — and we cannot jeopardise that for our staff or guests, and this makes the space untenable,” he said. As a result, four full-time staff members have been made redundant, but the owner said “we are still at their disposal to find options and opportunities.” McMaster had offered to find roles at Silo, in Hackney Wick, Chetiyawardana added.
He also admitted that there were other, “deeper” reasons behind the decision. “We were already on the back foot given the timing,” he said. “Beginning of the year is always tough, and you rely on spring to balance things out and restore the buffer. Covid hit at precisely the perfectly worst time. It also exposed just how fraught our system is...we’re not at the table governmental-wise to discuss food and drink in a manner that ensures its stability.”
At the time it opened, the restaurant emphasised a commitment to questioning what Chetiyawardana called “the seemingly immovable edifices” of current food systems: an approach that wanted to not just minimise waste through reuse, but also through upcycling and intercepting energy otherwise spent on recycling. It also rejected the viability of certain approaches that have become common buzz words among chefs seeking to burnish their sustainable credentials: foraging, seasonality, and locally sourced.
But for Chetiyawardana, the restaurant also aimed to purposefully challenge the perception of restaurants and bars as discreet spaces: “What Cub represented seemed precious and important...It was the first full food offering for us as a ‘bar’ group (sorta bar, kinda restaurant!) and we wanted to challenge that divide — not only by having bonafide superstars like @mcmasterchef @arielle_johnson @drjohnnydrain help us out — but by demonstrating the ridiculousness, and dangerousness of the divide.”
Cub was “a niche, destination venue, and given the [government’s] handling of the things, I don’t think there is the confidence from the consumer to return in a way that makes business possible, and we couldn’t put our team through the process of hope, just to knock it back again when we couldn’t see that the opportunity was there,” Chetiyawardana said.
While it was sad, Chetiyawardana hoped the restaurant could continue in some capacity. “We really believe in the values and systems it represented, and now more than ever, that seems to be a blueprint of how we want to change things,” he wrote. “Empowerment, ownership of re-shaping value and luxury, human and ecological sustainability, and showing how food, drink, music and community are such wonderfully warm tools to bring real happiness to people.”