“Dearest Casa kids, We fought the law and the law won.” This amusing sign written by Manager John Crawford was posted outside the restaurant for a week. We asked Casa Group Director James Bradshaw what was going on.
The company has tangled with the bureaucratic tarbaby known as FEHD for three years over licensing for outside seating, James said. The Lands Department lined up with their colleagues and ordered Casa to remove the tables on the forecourt within five days. This Casa did. James said Casa has complied with all Government instructions and still no licence for outside seating is forthcoming. He said FEHD agreed they would issue a licence outside the court where the matter is now being heard. Casa has been forced to retain expensive lawyers. The latest tactic by the FEHD is to refer the matter to the District Council.
“However, ultimate victory is looking very promising,” John wrote on his sign.
The Casa Group has had its ups and downs like everyone in the restaurant business. Its six-month-old Cena restaurant is an outstanding success. Kennedy Town didn’t work, however. Here the company rented a basement property with a small ground floor access area. James and his partners (brother Phil and Nathan Fleck, all Sai Kung residents) tried for months to get temporary rent relief from the landlord without success. Then they relinquished the property and walked. Now it has been empty for six months.
Cena is going gangbusters. In terms of daily customer count it may now be the most successful restaurant in the central square. The main reason is probably value for money. At Casa Group restaurants if you cherry pick from the menu you can get good deals: At Cena an Estrella beer (schooner size) for $35 and Okonomiyaki cabbage cakes for $30; at Casa you can buy a glass of Pinot Grigio or Montepulciano for $40 and sliders, like small burgers, for $25.
It a pleasant place to hang out, Cena. Sit near the doorway with your drink, listen to the music and watch the old ladies in the square in their purple tops and black trousers and the kids racing each other on their trikes and skateboards. James said he did the decor of Casa and Cena himself. He described Casa as following German design principles, deliberately minimalist. Grey walls, blackboards with the day’s offering, some wood and that’s it. The colours come from the food and people. James affects a minimalist look himself, long curly hair and dark grey Zuckerberg T-shirts. With Cena he said they have tried to “differentiate the atmosphere”. It is much warmer: red brick wallpaper, orange lights and high tables on one side and mirrors, a surrealistic rendition of Hong Kong on a blackboard, lots of cushions and low tables on the other.
James’ minimalist tendencies are present in Cena too. We asked him why the restaurant’s sign looks grotty. He laughed, “It’s on our to-do list. I was half-way through doing it seven months ago when the Stingrays turned up. We will get it done eventually.”