London restaurateur Will Ricker has hit back at Westminster City Council's continuing demands that he take down neon signs from the windows of his London Soho site.
Australian Ricker, who opened Mexican restaurant La Bodega Negra in March 2012, installed the signs early last year in a nod to the city district's red-light history. They show a pair of red lips and tongue, and a heart with a keyhole, with the words "Adult Video" and "Peep Show", in the style of the area's sex shops from decades past.
Yet in a discontinuance letter to Ricker, Westminster Council claimed that the signs amounted to "substantial injury to the amenity of the area".
Speaking to the London Evening Standard, council strategic director Rosemarie MacQueen said: "We have a sense of humour and can see the tongue in cheek nature of this display, but over a number of years we have worked with partners to clean up the Soho conservation area and remove neon signs from the windows of a number of sex shops. We cannot tell that industry one thing and then turn a blind eye when a different industry does the same thing."
But Ricker has objected to their claims on the grounds that the council are disregarding the history of the area, whose sex industry, he says, amounted to a global tourist attraction.
"Ours is an art installation paying homage to what Soho was," he told Caterer and Hotelkeeper. "We're not selling pornography. It just makes it a fun journey for our customers. Everything is getting sanitised in London. We're trying to throw a spice of life into it and make things interesting, and celebrate the humour and history. We think it's worth preserving."
He added that the signs were "clearly in character" with the area, which he argued still has sex shops, signs, gay bars and "remnants" of the sex industry past.
"Why should ours be any different?" he asked, claiming that if he loses the case with the council the restaurant will only need move the signs back by one metre to be within the law.
"That's what so ridiculous, we're talking about one hundred centimetres here," he said.
At the helm of his own company, Ricker Restaurants, Ricker is well-known for his candid attitude towards his businesses. Interviewed by Caterer and Hotelkeeper in Feburary, he admitted that opening now-successful La Bodega Negra had been a "steep learning curve" due to difficulties over adapting heavy Mexican food to London palates, and recruiting competent staff.
"We looked again at what we were trying to do…and slowed the whole thing down," he said.
His most recent projects have included Casa Negra, another Mexican branded restaurant in Hoxton, while the company also operates E&O in Notting Hill, XO in the West End, Eight Over Eight in the upmarket King's Road and numerous other bars. His first successful London venture, Cicada, opened in 1995 and is still going strong.