Milgi, Cardiff…the end of an era

It’s Sunday afternoon on 14th April 2019 and I have just got home and am a little bit sad.  Geraldine and I have just had our last ever Sunday lunch (and a few pints) at Milgi on City Rd.  Milgi has become an institution and a beacon for the independent food, music and art scene in Cardiff.  Cardiff needs places like Milgi and will be much the poorer for their departure. It’s the end of an era.

In 2006 Gabby and Beccy Kelly embarked on a crazy, surely “doomed to fail”, venture that combined food, art and community in one place….and  on City rd in Cardiff (and not Pontcanna!).  They called it Milgi (Welsh for Greyhound) 

But they succeeded – in the face of cynicism, business rates and the challenges of starting and running an independent café/restaurant in Cardiff. We have engaged in their journey and have seen Milgi morph from French cuisine to the best in Vegetarian fare. The sadly missed Sunday morning breakfast and their version of the Glamorgan Suasage deserved a Michelin star!

So,  I personally want to applaud their effort and thank both Gabby and Beccy from Aber-arth (and all their staff and supporters on the journey since 2006: Hannah, Jen, Dan, Simon, etc; the family behind the scene: Matt the street food guru, their international DJ dad and mum who has been ever present); they have enlivened and animated this part of Cardiff, introduced us to the best in plant based food and supported other small independent ventures on the way…Eartha being the most recent.  

They are big shoes to fill and I wish well to whoever takes that space…but for me there is now a gap that will take a lot of filling. I hope for another friendly space, with a welcome, great food & drink….and with a little time to spare.

More importantly Cardiff needs to find a way to make it easier (including financial support) for unique places likes Milgi  to operate sustainably.   Its these places that make the city unique, attract people and support  the community. Milgi has been an essential part of Cardiff’s creative scene for over a decade.

In that vein,  it’s all very well having big council reports about big ticket items which resonate at a Corporate level. However, more important and often missed or underplayed, is the unique value of small independent ventures like Milgi in enhancing Cardiff’s creative and economic fabric.

We need to find ways to  better support the small, innovative and foundational business such as these. However, I am worried, in the last couple of years we have lost Milgi, Gwdihw, Dempsey, Buffalo; and I am sure others At the same time we are being drowned by chains who have the economies of scale to survive in places and in times small independents don’t. Yet in most cases it is the smaller independents that add more value to the local economy.

Businesses like Milgi should, by default, get for example, lower business rates than operators like Greggs, Tesco’s, Wetherspoons etc.  If we believe in the principle of the foundational economy this should be a no-brainer.  

In addition to fiscal measures like lower business rates for independents, we also need more imaginative means to support our high streets and to encourage “bottom up” regeneration (as well as “top down”). This infers the need for curation and perhaps a more proactive and sympathetic role for local authorities in helping small businesses like Milgi. Local economic development can’t be all about  new buildings. I am not sure we have the right balance at the moment.

Finally, I wish Gabby and Beccy well  in whatever they do next- they deserve an award for what they have done for Cardiff and City Rd (a blue plaque anyone!) and especially its vegetarian and cultural life.  Stay in touch!!!

 Geraldine and I will miss Milgi a lot  and are sure we are not alone.

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