Harry Morgan, a north London institution famous for its salt beef sandwiches and chicken soup, will permanently close tonight after 78 years of trading in St. John’s Wood.
According to manager Antonio Franco — who has run the New York City-style Jewish deli and restaurant for the last decade — it is an unwillingness on behalf of the landlord Trophaeum Advisers to negotiate a rent settlement over monies owed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that will see the business close tonight, 27 April, with all members of staff made redundant as of Friday 30 April.
Matt Farrell, managing director at Trophaeum told Eater London this afternoon that the situation outlined by Franco on behalf of the restaurant’s current owner — the serial tech investor and founder of property website Zoopla, Alex Chesterman — was “factually incorrect.” Farrell said he could not comment further on the dispute but did say his company had shown a “willingness to resolve the situation.”
Meanwhile, Franco told Eater that a meeting had taken place between the owner and the landlord last Friday — in which Harry Morgan’s sought to achieve concessions on rent debt, which had accumulated in 2020, when Franco said, the restaurant and deli had either been closed or operating at 40 percent of capacity. “The landlord didn’t want to reduce or negotiate a reduction,” Franco told Eater.
The manager then added that as of this coming Friday he would be “jobless” — “For us, the staff [four chefs and two managers], it’s the end. I don’t know the feeling,” he said. “I have never been jobless.”
Nick Levine, a business writer and accounting strategist, tweeted today that the deli, which first opened in 1948, served North London’s best chicken soup. Later, he announced: “Nowhere else I’d rather be for lunch today.” Afterwards, he told Eater the restaurant was full by 1 p.m. and that “most of the staff have got new jobs already.” He also said that a member of staff has told him that the landlord “charged full [rent] during the entire pandemic and wanted to put up [rent] too which gave them no option.”
“At the end of the day, we wouldn’t be able to make a profit,” Franco said this lunchtime. “We pay suppliers, energy bills, and staff — we’d made enough to break even, so if we had to pay [full] rent then we wouldn’t make any money.”
While there are unknowns surrounding the nature of the dispute, it appears that Trophaeum is on a mission to refigure St. John’s Wood, a leafy upmarket residential north London neighbourhood, in the way that is has engaged in luxury “placemaking” along Albemarle Street in Mayfair. In a piece titled “The redevelopment of St. John’s Wood,” published in January 2020, Luxury London wrote that “St John’s Wood High Street is currently going through a subtle yet distinctive transformation under the guise of Trophaeum.”
In it, Farrell spoke of how “absolutely vital” it was “that we take everyone on the journey with us for what we’re doing.” What they’ve been doing is fairly straightforward, if not inexpensive: Luxury London reports that between 2016 and 2020 Trophaeum had acquired 37 properties on St John’s Wood High Street — therefore owning around 60 percent of the estate. And while it had shown no mercy for the likes of chain restaurants like Cafe Rouge or Carluccio’s — “Carluccio’s were paid £840,000 to vacate the premises” — there was a degree of sentimentality for the businesses which had played a role in lending the area its character.
Trophaeum had also been responsible for the arrival of Corbin and King’s Soutine on the street in 2018. However, Luxury London wrote, “all this change doesn’t mean a revolution,” with Farrell quoted as saying businesses such as Harry Morgan’s “have a big part to play in the future of what is one of London’s last remaining true ‘urban villages’.”
Where it leaves the deli and restaurant beyond this week remains unknown. But, Franco told Eater London, Chesterman will retain rights to the brand, even if he did not know if the restaurant and deli could reopen at a different London location in the future.