Tapas bar closure blindsides community

Pony’s then owner, Matt Cooper, put this notice up at the start of the Easter weekend.

The sudden closure of Cambridge tapas bar Pony at the start of the Easter weekend has left some staffers confused, angry and out of pocket.

They told Cambridge News that a new menu had been prepared just days before the closure, and food purchased to cover Easter weekend requirements.

“There was no sign that this was coming,” said Aliesha Henderson, who was rostered on for Good Friday and came in only to find no-one there. She contacted manager Gerard ‘Ged’ Mooney, who directed her to a Facebook message posted by Pony owner Matt Cooper earlier in the day, declaring the business closed and adding, “sorry that it has to be done like this”.

Jacob Norling, a chef who put in many hours at Matt’s side in the kitchen and who had put in for leave over Easter, was equally stunned.

“Everything seemed normal that week. We updated the menu on the Tuesday and ordered food in for the long weekend. It seems odd that he would waste all that money!”

It is understood Pony went into liquidation, but news around the traps also suggests it has been purchased by another owner. This could not be confirmed at the time of writing, but a new notice in the window went up earlier this week, saying Pony would be coming back soon and apologising for the inconvenience.

Both Aliesha and Jacob are angry at the way it happened, and say while they have been paid for their final working week, they are still owed holiday pay and wonder if they are not also due some sort of severance pay in the light of being given no notice of the closure.

“We have worked our butts off for Pony, and this is what happens,” said Aliesha. “I’m really angry. At the end of the day, we have bills to pay as well. He’s [Matt] has left us all in the lurch.”

Gerard was also blindsided by the move, unaware of impending closure until he picked up the Facebook message on Good Friday morning – despite having been at the bar with a group on the Thursday evening. His appointment this year to a February 14 start as Pony’s new restaurant manager brought a flurry of excitement to the bar’s Facebook page, with followers welcoming his 20 years’ experience as manager of the Auckland restaurant, Sails. He also supplied wine to Pony through his contacts and directed other suppliers to the tapas bar.

“We moved down here for a change in lifestyle, but I was only in the place for eight weeks before this happened.  It’s not only affected me on a personal level, but it’s also left the suppliers out of pocket.”

Pony’s former restaurant manager Gerard ‘Ged’ Mooney was also caught up in the closure. He was one of three permanent staff and several part-timers who lost their jobs overnight.

Gerard, who is now doing part-time work at other local outlets, said he hoped people might still get paid out through the liquidators, but he wasn’t certain how news of a new owner might affect that. He said he had great respect for Matt as a chef, and they had become friends. “But I’ve seen him just once since Pony closed, and that was behind the restaurant very briefly. I asked him for the liquidator’s number, but in the end got it through someone else.”

Cambridge was alerted to Pony’s closure through a note from Matt stuck on Pony’s door over Easter weekend, oddly placed alongside the Easter opening hours. It said: “To all my loyal customers, friends & Pony family … I thank you for all your support, good cheer, great conversation & for making Pony the great little tapas bar it was!!! I have fought hard & given everything to stay afloat, but this is THE END! IF YOU DON’T “SHOP LOCALLY” small businesses like this won’t survive. Ciao for now, Matt.”

Gerard said he had seen nothing to suggest Cambridge didn’t support its local businesses.

Matt Cooper was contacted several times for comment but declined.

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