Two top visitor attractions in York have lost their cafés temporarily after they were declared ‘unviable’.

The cafés at both the York Art Gallery and Merchant Adventurers’ Hall have been closed temporarily after the contractor pulled out.

They were run by Café No 8 Catering Ltd. But one of the directors, Chris Pragnell, said they could not make either of them pay.


He said a lack of footfall, rising prices and a saturated market all played their part in the inability to make a profit.

Both are set to reopen under new management next week.

Expensive to run

Happier times… the art gallery café gets set to open in 2015. Photograph: Café No 8
The business, linked to Chris’s popular bistro Café No 8 on Gillygate, won the contract to run the York Art Gallery café when it reopened after its £8 million renovation in 2015.

When it did reopen the new admission charges affected footfall.

He told YorkMix: “The café just never turned a profit.


“I don’t think the footfall was particularly good, which didn’t help. That and food costs, staff costs – it’s a very expensive place to run.”

They faced similar challenges at Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, which had “a full-time chef there and two or three front-of-house in the summer”.

“We thought we’d had a good summer because it was very busy, but in the end we weren’t making any profit.”

People won’t pay

Inside the Merchants’ Coffee House. Photograph: Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
Another problem was the York food and drink market. “We tried to do everything hand-made,” Chris said, which adds extra costs.

  • People need to pay more for that – but I don’t think they will. York’s saturated with places.

    A lot of the chains are doing pretty cheap food, which I guess lowers people’s expectations on price.

    Lots of people say they want to buy local stuff, organic stuff, but they balk at the price. But it costs a fortune.

Chris now plans to focus entirely on the Gillygate bistro and raise its profile again.

It’s still one of York’s favourite cafés – as was clear to the reaction to Chris’s Facebook post explaining the changes.

“After that Facebook post, the amount of people who came in with support was really nice,” he said.

Plans to reopen

A great spot… the mag
Both the cafés at York Art Gallery and Merchant Adventurers’ Hall closed on December 23.

Richard Saward, head of visitor experience at the gallery, said:

“We would like to thank Cafe No 8 for running the café at York Art Gallery since 2015 and would like to take this opportunity to wish them all the best for the future.

“In the short term Bradshaws of York, who cater for our weddings and corporate events, will be offering visitors tea, coffee and a selection of cakes from Tuesday (January 22).

“This will be developed to include a range of sandwiches and cold snacks in the coming weeks.

“In the long term, we have already had a number of enquiries from businesses interested in running the café and would be interested to hear from well-established companies who think they could bring a creative and of course delicious offer to the gallery’s café in the future.”


On the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall website they posted:

“The Merchants’ Coffee House will close at 4.00pm on Sunday 23rd December 2018 and will reopen on Monday 21st January. From that time the Coffee House will then be run by our new, in-house, dedicated café team.

“As this will be a new venture for us (although in a familiar setting) we are going to start small by providing freshly brewed tea and coffee and delicious cakes.

“We look forward to welcoming you in our new (ad)venture!”