Last business standing

Mandana Kalati is the owner of the last business open in the beleaguered row of shops opposite Turnham Green which has been blighted by Lendlease’s decision to buy Empire House but then not to develop it. She and her husband Ali opened The Wild Bunch cafe when it looked as though there would be plenty of new customers in the apartments and shops in the planned new complex. But they have watched in despair as shop after shop has closed over the past few years. There is nothing but a row of seven empty premises between them and the Old Packhorse to the west, the Italian restaurant and delicatessen Valentina having been the last to go in September 2017. Then in 2019 CarpetRight closed on the other side, leaving them in lonely isolation for almost a year.

“Business has been very, very slow” she told me. “People still come in and ask me if we’re new because they don’t usually come to this part of the High Rd and they’re surprised to find us here”.

In fact the cafe opened in 2016 and she and her husband took it over in 2017, when Valentina was still open next door and they thought development of the site was imminent. Their cafe is not part of the property owned by Lendlease. Their lease belongs to another landlord, Maidenway. Theirs and the next door building, where Valentina was, are sandwiched bewteen two sites owned by developers. Yelloway Ltd is planning to develop their site which includes the next door property on the other side, now boarded up, where CarpetRight used to be, and the property next door to that, Daniel beds.

Photograph above: Mandana Kalati behind the counter of The Wild Bunch

Mandana and Ali have lived in Chiswick since 1996 and brought their children up here, having come originally from Iran. Neither is a chef. Mandana was an accountant, her husband Ali a computer engineer, but they liked the idea of opening The Wild Bunch as a retirement project, to work on together. Their food is delicious. They do a range of smoothies. Most popular is the Green Monster, made from coconut water, organic almond milk, kale, spinach and chia seeds, with a vegan protein powder added.

Much of their menu is vegan and they use a lot of organic products. I had the Protein breakfast – egg on rye bread with avocado, tomato, smoked salmon and rocket – the vegan version of which has falafel, hoummus, avocado, tomato, cucumber, rocket and rye bread, with pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Photographs above: The Wild Buch approach from the east; Vegan protein breakfast, photograph by Aubrey.w4

Even though they are the last business trading in the forgotten bit of the High Rd, they are still being charged business rates similar to businesses further up the High Rd where there is plenty of passing trade. Their rent is £37,000 per annum, rates £35,500. “I am in touch with the council” says Mandana, “asking them for a reduction. The business is just not the same as in the rest of the road. We are really struggling, just hanging on in the hope that something will happen”. Their regulars love the cafe, she says, but there just isn’t any passing trade.

A planning application was submitted last year by Yelloway Ltd, for a major retail and housing development which would be six storeys high. It received initial approval from Hounslow planners in December and approval from the Planning Committee in January. They plan to build 34 flats and two retail units at the ground floor level where the boarded up CarpetRight shop and Daniel beds now are. The frontage will be three storeys high, with the taller blocks behind.

All Mandana and Ali have to do is to hang on in there until it’s built.