Until recently, there was a shop named popXpress in Piccadilly near the Ritz hotel in London. This was a little store devoted entirely to selling Apple iPods and iPod accessories. When it was opened, people who analyse this sort of thing found it an interesting experiment, but were not terribly optimistic about its success, at least partly because it was situated only a short walk from the London flagship Apple Store in Regent Street. Higher hopes were held for the other popXpress store near Liverpool Street in the City of London, which was close to many cashed up City workers and far from an Apple Store. Thus it was not a terribly great surprise when parent company Computer Warehouse announced in March that the Piccadilly store was to close (the store in Liverpool Street remains open and quite possibly profitable). Upon learning this, most of us would have said “Oh”, and then gone back to sleep. However, the explanation, when it came, was stunning.
Next to the popXpress store in Piccadilly was and is a sushi bar, a branch of a chain named Itsu. This is what is known as a “fast casual” restaurant: a bit more expensive and with food a bit tastier than McDonald’s, but designed for people in a hurry or on their lunch breaks who want a quick meal and do not want to spend too much money. Itsu belongs to Pret a Manger, probably the king of London fast casual dining (and, incidentally, 30% owned by McDonald’s) . There are a couple of Itsu outlets near where I work in Canary Wharf, and from time to time I eat lunch in those outlets myself. The food is not bad, but it is not exactly worth writing home to Mum about either. I have never eaten at the branch in Piccadilly, and I suspect that few people who know the area do, because the (possibly Japanese government subsidised) Japan Centre at Piccadilly Circus is just down the road, and this manages to both be inexpensive and to serve some of the best Japanese food in London.
However, the Itsu restaurant in Piccadilly gained notoriety last November as the place where Alexander Litvinenko had lunch with his Italian acquaintance Mario Scaramella, where it was for a time believed he was poisoned and where traces of Polonium 210 were later discovered, leading to many radioactive sushi jokes.
As I mentioned, a couple of months after this, the popXpress store next door announced it was closing. Few would have thought there was a connection, but when asked, management explained that that had received “an offer they couldn’t refuse” from Itsu, who wanted to expand their store. Apparently, business had been absolutely booming since the Polonium 210 incident, and they wanted to expand the restaurant (no, I will not speculate as to why this offer could not be refused, and which if any isotopes were involved). Apparently Itsu also brought forward plans to open their first store in New York, as the publicity was apparently a godsend. It would seem that all publicity is good publicity, even when you are a change of restaurants and the publicity was that your food might be radioactive.
Actually, that may not be entirely true. Or at least it can be further tested. For come to think of it, another chain restaurant in London was in the news recently. At the Strand branch of pizza chain Zizzi, a man recently entered the restaurant at dinner time, obtained a knife from the kitchen, and used it to sever his own penis in front of diners.
Upon walking past that particular restaurant a couple of days later, I will confess that I was struck by a strong urge to walk in the opposite direction. Really, though, I should go in and ask management what the publicity has done for business. For I may want to take an interest in the business next door.