The Cat's Pyjamas has become Leeds' first cashless restaurant - this is why

Indian street food chain The Cat's Pyjamas has become the first card payment-only restaurant in the city.

By Grace Newton
Monday, 18th February 2019, 2:37 pm
Updated Monday, 18th February 2019, 2:42 pm
The Cat's Pyjamas on Eastgate
The Cat's Pyjamas on Eastgate

The brand's owner Alison White has cited security concerns as well as convenience as the reasons for her decision to go cashless.

The Cat's Pyjamas in Sheffield has closed after just four months in businessThe chain has sites on Eastgate and in Headingley, and recently opened a takeaway on New Briggate. There are also restaurants in York and Harrogate.

It will be the first restaurant in Leeds to refuse cash payments, although some bars have already taken the increasingly popular step.

A Cat's Pyjamas employee was mugged outside the Headingley restaurant, while city centre Mexican eatery El Marchador was recently burgled and cash taken.

The Cat's Pyjamas saved from administration after last-minute cash injectionAlison believes the move is necessary to protect staff who are more vulnerable when cash is stored on the premises.

"Sadly one of our employees was attacked outside the Headingley restaurant. It has been reported to the police and they are dealing with it but it makes me want to do all we can to protect our staff.

"There has been a spate of robberies in Leeds targeting small businesses such as Mexican restaurant, El Marchador, which is across the road from our new takeaway and was broken into recently for cash.

"Hospitality staff are particularly vulnerable to break-ins and robberies when they are on their way to deposit money in the bank.

"Now that one of our own employees has been targeted, we believe the simplest way we can safeguard our employees is to stop them having to deal with cash. So, we have taken the decision to only accept card payments across the whole chain from next week.

"A couple of bars in Leeds have gone cashless but not any restaurant chains as far as I am aware. We believe we are the first in Yorkshire.

"We haven’t taken this decision lightly. We asked customers whether they are happy for us to go cashless and 75 per cent said yes in a social media poll of nearly 300 people.

"Not accepting cash will also cut average service time which can only be a good thing for our customers.

"We will still allow cash tips - as well as card tips - because we don’t want to reduce the income of our hard-working staff but all food and drinks will be by card-only payment.’

"Hopefully, this will protect our employees from further attacks and mean we can all sleep easier at night."

Despite the opening of the takeaway, the business has been beset by issues during a recent expansion drive.

The chain's Sheffield restaurant, which opened in September 2018, shut in January. Alison cited difficulties with travelling from Leeds to Sheffield while caring for her baby as one of the reasons she was relinquishing the lease. She has given the Sheffield staff jobs at other sites. Plans for an opening in Wakefield have been shelved.

In October 2018, the chain entered administration, but was saved by a financial rescue package that included investment from Alison's family members. Alison said in a statement at the time:-

"There came a point over the last three months where we found ourselves in a difficult situation due to our recent high level investment into business growth and expansions, and our reliance on short-term, high-interest, crippling loans. We had a planned new site opening in Wakefield which would support our cash flow and bottom line. However, unforeseen circumstances with power problems meant the site couldn’t open fast enough.

"That, coupled with building a strong head office team to support me to run the business whilst I had my first child, resulted in a loss for the business of over £50,000 a month. "I can hold my hands up to say that my ambitious plans were possibly a bit naive, not having the proper support around me and I got drawn into a financial situation that was not sustainable. As a new growing business it’s very difficult to get long term sustained borrowing from any source - so short-term high-interest loans are the route many go down.

"This is what we did and I felt confident I could maintain the pressure of the repayments however when things go wrong circumstances change. We have been working with accountants for the last four weeks, seeing if there was anyone out there who could help us, to first and foremost secure the 130 jobs of the amazing team members we have.

"Due to the current climate in the restaurant sector no support was forthcoming. We have managed to save the business, and it comes down to family. I am so grateful to have such an amazing personal network around me, and I appreciate that not all entrepreneurs are in this situation.

"My fiancé, Paul, who is already successful in the trade with his own businesses is heading it up, thanks to financial contributions from many family members. We have saved all jobs and all sites are fully operational.

"In hindsight I can see that as an ambitious entrepreneur bringing something new to the restaurant market I had big dreams and ambitious plans but perhaps without the right support or advice. These have been the worst few months of my life when I should have been off on maternity spending time with my daughter, Elsie. The Cat’s Pyjamas is a strong brand that I have put my heart and soul into for the last three years.

"The business is fully functioning and continuing to provide the service people know and love. I’m just sorry that we’ve had to go through this and hugely disappointed in the financial systems that have led to this, but I know the new company with my support will continue stronger.”

Just before Christmas, the Harrogate site suffered a kitchen fire.

The first Cat's Pyjamas opened in Headingley in 2015.