London’s ‘best Caribbean restaurant’ at risk of closing after giant boxes blocking windows ’cause £50k loss in profit’

A distraught award-winning restaurant owner claims she could go bust after five giant telecom boxes were placed outside her business.

Mum of four, Debbie Monfries, 61, of Thornton Heath, is the proud owner of Umana Yana, a popular Guyanese restaurant in Herne Hill, South London.

The restaurant is renowned for its home cooking, with Debbie’s pumpkin and chicken, and crayfish fritters being in high demand.

READ MORE: ‘I went to one of London’s best Italian restaurants miles from the centre and one thing bugged me’

Debbie’s smile always lights up the shop, and you can expect fantastic customer service when there

But according to Debbie, the popular restaurant might have to close after five telecom boxes were installed outside, blocking the view from the road, and losing her over half of her revenue, she claims.

She added that the boxes are ruining the view of the restaurant from the outside-in and the inside-out.

“Potential customers going past can’t properly see in, and customers eating aren’t comfortable with it, it makes them feel claustrophobic,” she said.


The view of Umana Yana from the road has been completely swallowed-up by the telecom boxes

Debbie, who was previously manager at a Sainsbury’s in Streatham opened her business 13 years ago and invested £70,000 on the venue.

When she bought the shop it “badly needed repairs”, but after putting in some elbow grease her food joint was ready to start serving.

Things were going very well for the business and Debbie told MyLondon she was making a healthy turnover of £77,000 per year, but by 2015 the five boxes had been erected, forming a looming green and white semi-circle around the restaurant.

Debbie said: “The restaurant is on a lovely corner, the view is great and you can see the restaurant from every direction including the park [Brockwell Park is across the road].

“By 2012 the restaurant was ready, but in the meantime the telephone people started installing telecommunication boxes.

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Umana Yana serves freshly made patties such as: Vegan, prawns & Crayfish, Crayfish, pumpkin & Chicken and more

“Then 2014 hit and they installed the massive one and we started to complain, but instead of removing it they installed another one.”

The boxes are used by O2, Vodafone, and Virgin, but are managed by infrastructure firms Clarke Telecom, and Cornerstone.

Debbie says the boxes have damaged her business so much that her near-£80,000 per year turnover has plummeted to only £30,000.

However Cornerstone says it always considers the how its technology looks, and that it has considered moving the boxes nearby, which proved to be structurally impossible.

It added: “We have been able to trim a local tree which was affecting the view of the restaurant and have suggested that some local advertising could be paid for by Cornerstone which would raise awareness of the business.”

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Umana Yana sits on 264 Croxted Road, Herne Hill

She and other members of Herne Hill’s community have complained to Southwark Council about the boxes, but say they’ve been fobbed off.

Emails seen by MyLondon show that despite the council saying the boxes are legal, it admits there are too many of them.

In the emails, Southwark Council said: “It is recognised though that by putting the number of cabinets that they have in this one location mobile phone operators have caused a problem. The council is therefore taking advice to see what steps are available to it to tackle this problem.”

Cllr Jason Ochere, cabinet member for Jobs, Business and Town Centres, said: “The location of the telecom boxes outside Umana Yana is clearly not ideal. Unfortunately we have little control over where these boxes are placed as they do not need planning permission. We will be speaking with the owner of Umana Yana and the telecom companies again to try and find a way forward that works for everyone involved.”

Things have got so bad for the business that Debbie had to open a stall in nearby Herne Hill market, just to stay afloat.

“I reached rock bottom in 2017, I would have closed at Christmas, I had no money and I was really down-and-out,” she said.

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The fish stew is very popular

The stress of all of the constant battles is starting to take its toll on the 61-year-old, and she’s found herself becoming increasingly ill and has been diagnosed with thrombosis (when blood clots block veins and arteries).

On top of rarely sleeping at night, Debbie said she has also started having anxiety-induced panic attacks which get so bad she has been admitted to A&E.

She has put these down to her increasing financial difficulties. She told MyLondon how recently she worked from 8am until 11pm and made just £129.

“How can anyone survive on that?” she added.

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Debbie said she wants the boxes removed and would like to be compensated for her losses.

She says if nothing were to change the restaurant will have to close.

“I can’t just pick myself up and move somewhere else,” she said. “I’m 61 and I’ve invested all my money into it. I’ve even re-mortgaged my house and that money hasn’t generated income yet.

“We should be winding down to retire, not start up a new venture. If nothing changes it will be like taking bread out my mouth.”

Debbie does have a glimmer of hope though, and that’s by taking the telecoms operators to court.

But it will cost £50,000, so the restaurant has set up a fundraiser. You can find out more information here.

Lambeth Council, Southwark Council, O2, Vodafone, Virgin, and Clarke Telecom were contacted for comment.

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