Harrington: Trader finds Zoom chat licence hard to swallow

Friday, 13th May

Yacine Hamdi

Hoxton Beach stall manager Yacine Hamdi

A FALAFEL stall loved by university staff and students in Bloomsbury has been told it must close – after failing to win a new licence.

The Hoxton Beach stall in Byng Place has been trading for two years and had become a landmark for lovers of the deep-fried chickpea balls.

But it is now at the centre of a row over the licensing of market stalls, with its owner saying the Town Hall are forcing a popular business to close for no reason.

Proprietor Patrick Matthews set up a falafel stall in the early 2000s and now runs a mobile kitchen in Goodge Place, Fitzrovia.

Having traded successfully for 12 years, roadworks forced the stall to relocate to Byng Place.

It was a location Mr Matthews had long asked Camden Council to consider letting for food stalls, and his hunch was right after he was given a weekly licence during the Covid lockdowns.

He told me: “We did really well there.

“We soon had big queues. It was a success, so we asked for a permanent pitch.”

This was denied, but Mr Matthews has now been horrified to learn other street food businesses will be moving in their place.

He told me: “We were told vaguely there would be interviews with a panel. Instead there was a chat on Zoom with one officer. It feels like since the pandemic we are being administered by people sitting at home, who don’t know what is going on, and do not know how successful the stall is.”

Mr Matthews added: “They haven’t come to see in person how the markets are running and how pitches are working. If they had, they would see that our stall is a welcome addition.”

An online petition to save the falafel stall has been signed by over 200 customers and Mr Matthews hopes a Town Hall promise to review the licensing process may mean the decision is reversed.

Market chief Labour councillor Nadia Shah said: “During the pandemic we suspended all permanent trading licences and trading fees. A flexible system was put in place that allowed traders who wished to trade to book pitches on a daily or weekly basis free of charge.

“The owner of Hoxton Beach applied and was granted a temporary licence at Byng Place, a trial location, with his assistants operating the stall.

“These temporary licences were then advertised and some of the registered Hoxton Beach assistants applied.

“Unfortunately, not all were successful. We have a scoring system to evaluate submissions and a panel of interviewers to ensure fairness and impartiality.

“We will review the scoring to double-check scores against our licence criteria. No licences have been issued and won’t be until this review is complete.”

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