Street Feast is gearing up to take its food markets to Manchester, with co-founder Jonathan Downey saying that, unlike London, it's a city where the night-time economy is "welcomed not warned off".
The group, behind London markets Dinerama, Giant Robot, Model Market and Hawker House, is already ensconced in a Manchester office and eyeing up multiple locations across the city.
Downey told The Caterer: "The licensing environment is so anti the night-time economy in London at the moment that we are devoting almost all of our attention to opening sites outside of the capital. We've found some great spaces that we're chasing in Manchester, we're interested in about eight sites and I think there's a very good chance we will have three sites open within the next year or so."
The move into Downey's home city is a response to its evolution as a centre of innovation. He added: "Probably only in the last 18 months have I felt we could be successful in Manchester because I've seen the city developing at a rapid rate. It feels like it's finally this major European city in its own right. It feels like it's finally arrived as a real force for food and drink- it's been known for its nightlife in the past, but not as a great place to eat and that's changed in last few years. There's a real crowd and appetite for what we do now, which is really encouraging."
Downey, who is no stranger to ripping his way through the red tape strung up by bureaucratic local authority officials, said the approach taken in Manchester was in stark contrast to that seen in London. He is among those to have spoken out against policies including those put in place by Hackney Council limiting new licences to 11pm closing times in the week and midnight at weekend across swathes of the borough.
He added: "In London, the evening and night-time economy is seen as a problem and night-time and evening operators as the enemy.
Downey is not the only one to praise Manchester's approach to the night time economy. Last week UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: "It is encouraging to see the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Mayor Andy Burnham prioritise the importance of the late-night sector and work towards boosting it. Greater Manchester has a fantastic nightlife thanks, in part, to major investment by hospitality businesses. It is one of the most exciting and diverse in the country and it is great to see policy-makers understand the value the sector brings to the region.
"The blueprint for the night time economy contains some very positive measures aimed at supporting late-night venues. Not least the Agent of Change principle, the introduction of which UKHospitality has consistently lobbied for. Measures to encourage people to stay out late and facilitate their enjoyment of late-night hospitality are very positive. Support for a whole raft of measures that boost the sector, including: improving transport links, encouraging later openings and supporting industry-led schemes that keep customers feeling safe and supported on nights out are all hugely positive."