Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Illustration: John McGowan
I went to an opening a few weeks back. Not living a Beckham lifestyle it was a treat to get first go at a hot new establishment. The place in question was The Hearth, Lewes’ new pizzeria/bakery in the hipster venue of the old bus station. Bit of a mob scene to be honest and not as exclusive as my fantasy, but the food was delicious and the complimentary wine a cut above. It did make me wonder though, why Lewes is so well endowed with Italian eateries.  By my reckoning there are currently six, but I’m sure it’s been as high as ten in the heyday of Si and that strange one that used to be on South Street. Does Lewes like pizza that much? And would one sushi bar be too much to ask for?

It’s odd, this phenomenon of similar shops clustering together. It would seem reasonable to assume that similarly-themed businesses would spread out. “I’ll take Lewes and you take Ringmer,” kind of thing. Make sure everyone has a particular sort of shop handy. When you start to look though, it turns not to be like that at all. From film producers in Hollywood and hi-fi shops in Tottenham Court Rd, through to book shops in our own high street, it seems that similar businesses often want to be near each other. In fact it is sometimes even a formal economic policy to develop business clusters. The idea behind these is to drive inventiveness, specialist skill development and inward investment, all in a single location.

This suggests that the decision to open another pizzeria in town is not necessarily a mistake, as it might at first appear. Rather than everyone getting a smaller slice of the pie (an appropriate metaphor if ever I saw one), Lewes, like Silicon Valley, could instead become a magnet for entrepreneurs, discerning consumers and venture capitalists. We already have a bunch of pizza restaurants offering innovation in the form of fads like jars of pickled vegetables and leather chairs (Prezzo), faux-realism (those pretend wooden tables in Ask), and sourdough spirituality (the aforesaid Hearth). There are also more lasting verities like family (Famiglia) and being classier than Pizza Hut (Pizza Express). It might get to the point where fancying a pizza means the phrase, “let’s go to Lewes” isn’t far behind.

All of this might drive the opening of more restaurants, potentially creating a local equivalent of Douglas Adams’ “Shoe Event Horizon” where it is economically impossible to open anything else but a pizzeria. It’ll go nicely with the coffee takeover we’ve already had. If you like pizza this is obviously good news. However, even if you could live on the stuff, don’t you ever get a slight craving for something different now and then? All those hungry people coming into town might sometimes be wooed away too. By a little branch of YO! Sushi maybe? Or Brighton’s finest, Murasaki. In fact if the YO! or the Murasaki people are reading I’d like to point out that we’re just up the road, the town is full of pizzerias and some of us fancy a quick nigiri platter before our next deep pan slice.

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