How red tape nearly spoiled chef Peter Gordon's Kopapa-party

Just over a year after the doors to Peter Gordon’s newest London restaurant opened, Gordon and his business partner Adam Wills tell us how it almost didn’t happen.

Walking past The Providores restaurant on Marylebone High Street on a Sunday afternoon you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve missed a trick. What do all these people standing in the queue know that you don’t? Is Noel Gallagher inside singing for the hungry punters? Are they giving out gold-plated i-Pads?

 The answer is no, the only celebrity inside is Peter Gordon’s famous “fusion” brunch menu and the only response is to get to the back of the queue. And good things come to those who wait.

But when it came to opening his latest restaurant Kopapa, the shoe was on the other foot for Peter and his business partners Adam Wills, Michael McGrath and Brendan Allen. They had to wait for months of red tape to clear before they could open their doors in Seven Dials, Covent Garden.

“We went through the whole process again, paid more money, got terrible service and our business suffered”

Adam Wills

As the queues outside The Providores demonstrate, Gordon certainly understands the benefits of patience, but when your business is losing money, waiting is the hardest thing in the world.

The trouble began when residents lobbied against having the restaurant on the site.

“As we saw it, we were replacing a really noisy and crowded bar. We were coming from running Providores in Marylebone, which is far more residential. We thought all the residents would love us here,” says Gordon.

Kopapa, Seven Dials

Kopapa, Seven Dials

Financing the business became the next nightmare, with credit-crunched banks reluctant to lend. With two super-successful companies coming together to form another, the process should have been easy, but Gordon found himself putting up his house as collateral. “It came as quite a shock,” he said.

“The terms under which the banks are prepared to lend are unbelievably onerous and unclear,” says Wills, “None of us have bad debts and everything was in our favour, but they took advantage of our situation.

“With various arrangement fees and surveys it all just takes so long. People will go on holiday for two weeks and the chain stops. You’re trying to keep up the momentum and meet your deadlines, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You pay an extraordinary high interest for the supposed privilege.”

Then trouble was everywhere.

When they finally got their hands on the premises it emerged there was no gas in the building. So began an inordinately expensive and time-consuming tussle with British Gas. They had to pay £11,000 up front and wait three months just for a date to get pipes laid – a job that, when it did finally happen – took one day. Luckily, the job finished just before work on the roads was suspended by Camden Council to make way for Christmas lights.

Issues with outside seating and disabled access followed.

“We waited 12 weeks to get a licence for outdoor chairs when the business that was there before us already had one. We went through the whole process again, paid more money, got terrible service and our business suffered,” storms Wills.

Disabled access became an issue when the Kopapa team were told it was needed for the basement. With a disabled toilet on the ground floor it flummoxed Gordon as to why.

 “To service all the businesses in Camden there is one access officer and she works Monday to Wednesday. If you are looking to build something and you need her to sign it off but if she goes on holiday, there’s no one to replace her.

“For them [the council] there’s no cost to their inefficiency but we were in a stalemate because construction had to stop all the time while we waited for their answers”

- Adam Wills

Having to deal with multiple agencies, all seemingly incapable of communication, became a bureaucratic nightmare. As the partners waited week after week to get various items signed off, making no money all the while, they nevertheless had to pay rent, rates and other unexpected costs.

“The frustrating thing is that you couldn’t sit down with the necessary people because they were never available,” says Wills. “For them there’s no cost to their inefficiency, but we were in a stalemate because construction had to stop all the time while we waited for their answers.

“If we hadn’t seen these issues before when opening multiple sites around London we might have been derailed. A business with a good idea will always survive even the toughest of situations be it economic recession, meddling by local council or a disgruntled neighbour.”

With all the distress they experienced, is the Antipodean pair tempted to head back down under and retire to a vineyard in Marlborough?

Not for a second – luckily for London.

“It’s like no other city,” says Wills. “I’ve travelled the world and visited all the great cities, but I’m always so glad to get back to London. There’s such an indescribable vibe here that New Zealand just doesn’t compare.”

“There is certainly a lot of red tape here, but there are frustrating issues in New Zealand also,” says Gordon. “I just love London. The diversity and variety is like no other place I know. There’s such a mass of different cultures.”

Kopapa opened on 7 December last year. Now that the coffee machine is grinding, the wine is flowing and the full menu of fusion delights are flying out of the kitchen, the pair can concentrate on what they’d wanted to do all along. Run a successful restaurant.

“Kopapa is an amalgamation of all the things that I like. London has a fantastic fine dining culture, but I’m not about that. I prefer a more casual style, sharing plates with friends and really participating in a meal. That’s the kind of place we’ve created here”, smiles Gordon.

Good things do indeed come to those who wait…

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