There has never been a better time to dine out in Harrogate or run an independent food business. In this article from our sister publication, On Your Doorstep, we take a look at why…
It is often said that you could eat out every day of the year in Harrogate and still not run out of new places to try. In the last year alone, several new restaurants have opened their doors, including well-known names such as Carluccio’s and Jamie’s Italian. Others reported to be arriving soon include Nando’s, which is set to move into a new unit on Parliament Street. Despite these powerhouses of the culinary world lining Harrogate’s streets, independent businesses are also thriving in the town.
Gareth Atkinson of The Yorkshire Meatball Company, which opened on Station Bridge in March 2014, said the support of the business community and customers has been vital to their success. “We were very pleasantly surprised by how we were welcomed to Harrogate,” he said. “It’s always a bit of a gamble bringing a niche concept to somewhere new. “There’s a massive foodie scene here, but there weren’t a lot of niche concepts. There are more now – like La Feria and Norse – but when we launched, there wasn’t much of that scene here.”
You could eat out every day of the year in Harrogate and still not run out of new places to try.
The Yorkshire Meatball Company is certainly niche. Run by Gareth with his father, David, it does exactly what its name suggests – and even the desserts are served in ball form. With a background in marketing and design, Gareth likes to be playful with the concept, and there are few foods which offer greater opportunities to have a fun menu fun than meatballs. However, there is a serious side to it all. In the first year, the business served an impressive 70,000 meatballs, and the father-and-son team have ambitions to do even more in the future.
“We are potentially going to expand into weekend breakfasts – brunch balls,” said Gareth.
“We’re exploring ideas around a product line for high-end supermarkets, such as premium brand meatballs. We’re just starting to have conversations around a concept for franchising food into craft beer places that have a link to the Yorkshire brand. It would be a stripped back version of our concept. “We would love to open more restaurants, although Harrogate will always be our flagship branch. Lots of things are being planned and some will hopefully come off over the next year.”
One idea Paul has had which would certainly involve a lot of work is a food festival in Harrogate, showcasing the best the town has to offer.
Another restaurant with big plans is Norse, which began trading a month after The Yorkshire Meatball Company. It is based in the same premises as Baltzersen’s, the Scandinavian café on Oxford Street that has been trading since autumn 2012. Through both businesses, owner Paul Rawlinson is keen to try new ideas – even when he can’t see a direct benefit to begin with. In March, following an approach on Twitter, head chef Murray Wilson was despatched to London to run a pop-up Norse in the kitchen of Carousel, a restaurant run temporarily by a series of different chefs who each bring their own menus.
Paul said: “It’s one of those things that might not mean lots more people come to the restaurant, but it could be a slow burn. Somebody might have eaten there and in the future will come here, or mention it to a friend who mentions it to a friend who mentions it to a journalist and they come to do something on us. “The second Christmas at Baltzersen’s, we did gingerbread house decorating classes. They weren’t very successful – not a huge number of bookings, although the people who did the class really enjoyed it. “But last November, we got an email out of the blue from Xanthe Clay at the Daily Telegraph who came up and made a gingerbread house with us and did a double-page spread in the Sunday Telegraph magazine with a step-by-step guide to making one yourself. “We could never afford that kind of advertising. Sometimes, you think something was a lot of work for not much benefit, but you never know what it might lead to later on.”
One idea Paul has had which would certainly involve a lot of work is a food festival in Harrogate, showcasing the best the town has to offer. “My initial thoughts would be a series of events in existing premises where people can collaborate,” he said. “We could get a set of farmers in to provide all the food for a meal, and local wine and beer companies to do food pairing dinners.” Although the practicalities of the festival are a long way from firmed up, Paul is clear about one thing: it should celebrate the best of Harrogate’s food scene and encourage local businesses to work together. “I wouldn’t want to create an opportunity for businesses from Leeds to come to Harrogate,” he said. “It’s not really adding anything to Harrogate if that happens – you don’t get much long-term benefit. “If it’s going to be in Harrogate, it needs to be Harrogate businesses – perhaps ones that are usually wholesale, rather than retail. You could speak to the landlord of shop X that’s unoccupied and they might be willing to lease it just for a week to have a different person popping up every day of the week.”
The food festival may still be a long way off, but Paul lives out the same principles through his business every day. He supports and promotes independent businesses, not least through a regular blog which recommends everything from friendly sweet shops to reliable tradesmen. In among these are posts about the best coffee and food he and his team have discovered elsewhere – but Paul is not concerned about the rivalry. “Not everybody wants to go to the same place every day,” he said. “There are so many chains in Harrogate – some of the coffee shops even have two branches now. It’s difficult for independents to compete on the marketing side because they just don’t have the same budget. “There are businesses that we admire and could do with a helping hand. We’ve got a certain audience online and on social media, so we like to introduce people to things we like. “As independent businesses, we should promote each other more. It doesn’t hurt anyone to do that.”