Thursday 17 October 2019

'VAT hike has forced us to close after 25 years' - restaurant owners

Chameleon’s owners Kevin O’Toole and Carol Walsh.
Chameleon’s owners Kevin O’Toole and Carol Walsh.
Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Collins

VAT increases and extreme chef shortages are the main reasons for the looming closure of Chameleon, a beloved Indonesian restaurant in Temple Bar, according to its owner.

The popular restaurant is closing its doors after 25 years, following the decision in last year's budget to restore VAT to pre-recession levels of 13.5pc.

Added to the ever-rising cost of business, it has meant that costs have become unsustainable and owners Kevin O'Toole and Carol Walsh are closing Chameleon's doors next week.

Charges

Hospitality businesses were rocked during last year's Budget, when Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe announced that VAT charges would increase from 9pc to 13.5pc.

For Chameleon, this was to be the last straw.

"Bringing the VAT back up to 13.5pc is short-sighted insanity," Mr O'Toole told the Herald.

"It was brought back up from January 1 and since then, every few months we've gotten the VAT bill and have asked ourselves how we'll pay it.

"I haven't paid myself in two months, because it's more important that the staff get paid.

"The VAT rate should have been split between accommodation and food, but it was a lazy and short-sighted decision."

In order to survive, the 50-seater restaurant in the heart of Dublin's Temple Bar must be fully packed at all times, according to Mr O'Toole.

"If we had a 150 or 200-seater restaurant, we could get away with only being fully booked at weekends," he said.

"But for a 50-seater, we have to be full most of the time."

He also said that chef shortages, as well as the recent VAT increases, will have a dire effect on smaller Irish restaurants.

"Chef shortages are crippling and it's mostly due to the lack of correct funding from apprenticeships," Mr O'Toole added.

"Apprentice chefs should be treated the same as apprentice electricians or plumbers.

"I lost two chefs and I haven't even tried to replace them.

"There just aren't chefs there as there are so many hoops to jump through to get the training."

After losing two chefs, Chameleon then cut its opening times down to five days a week instead of seven.

"We decided to close on Mondays and Tuesdays and while that is good for family life, we would be employing more and putting money into the economy if we were open every day," Mr O'Toole said.

"Tourists walk around on Mondays and Tuesdays and wonder why the restaurant is closed.

"Restaurants like this are needed in the city and Ireland is portrayed as a cultural country, but the Government is not doing anything to help the smaller restaurants.

Support

"But the cost of business, as well as the high insurance rates and now the VAT increases, mean it's too late for a lot of places."

He will now train young chefs in Crumlin College after years of training chefs in his own restaurant.

Since announcing the closure of the restaurant, the owners have received an outpouring of support from customers and competitors alike.

"We've had healthy competition with other restaurants over the years and they've been sending us messages of support," he said.

"We're just very grateful for all of the support and for all our customers, they've all been wonderful."

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