'Unhappy, lonely individuals': Boss of Soho bar Milk and Honey blasts neighbours objecting to street food stall

Ben Morgan, Phoebe Cooke
People at Hawker House on Canada Street in south-east London

A bar mogul has lashed out at “unhappy, lonely, moaning individuals” whose complaints about his street food venue almost forced its closure.

Jonathan Downey, owner of award-winning Soho bar Milk and Honey, faced 23 objections to the renewal of a licence for Hawker House, a huge food and drink market in a disused warehouse in Canada Water, Rotherhithe.

One objector described being a neighbour to the complex as “like living in a constant disco nightmare”.

But in an angry series of tweets Mr Downey, who also has bars in New York, Melbourne and Ibiza, said residents in London had “disproportionate” power to shut down businesses.

“It is much harder now than when I started 25 years ago,” he said. “London has become much more like New York, where residents’ groups can object and you cannot get a licence for anything in some areas of the city. Local people should have power and influence, but it should be proportionate.”

Owner of award-winning Milk and Honey, Jonathan Downey.

One objector claimed to have a video that showed patrons leaving Hawker House, which is part of the Street Feast network of pop-ups, with alcoholic drinks — something Mr Downey said was not possible due to vigilant door staff. He tweeted: “Lots of bewilderment about why our licence was in jeopardy. Previously it has been renewed automatically. It should have been automatically renewed. The system is broke.”

He added: “Unhappy, lonely, moaning individuals whose sole voice is magnified and louder than reason.”

The licence was eventually renewed at a hearing last week, but with stringent conditions imposed “to reduce the negative impact on local people”.

Mr Downey said he stood by his tweets and called for more mediation between businesses, objectors and councils: “If we lost the licence we would have closed at the end of the year.

“That would see the loss of jobs for 40 young Londoners plus 20 cleaning or security staff. It would’ve been a nightmare. The sole evidence of a local resident has a disproportionate impact on the whole process.

“There should be some mediation. We should be able to sit down with the objector.” But Kirstie Gerrard, who opposed the licence, said: “When people leave they stand here leaving rubbish, they are noisy, urinate along the wall and vomit.

“There’s been faeces against the wall, I’ve seen taxi drivers going into the bush to empty their bowels with loo-paper in their hand. We aren’t against Hawker House, it’s just that there are people who have to live here too.”

Mark Williams, Southwark council’s cabinet member for regeneration, said the borough aimed to create opportunities for temporary businesses such as Hawker House in disused buildings, but “to be successful these businesses must be considerate to local people and listen when they raise concerns. In this case a compromise has been found.”

The council granted a licence for recorded music indoors and alcohol on and off the premises between 10am and 12.30am Monday to Saturday, and 10am and 11pm on Sunday.

The venue can remain open until 1am Monday to Saturday and 11.30pm on Sunday.