Pre-lockdown, OWT’s cafe in the heart of Kirkgate Market was buzzing. The space was intimate, in that sitting at the narrow table inside or straddling the stall boundary and the indoor pavement usually meant your elbows got familiar with those of the person sitting next to you.
OWT’s menus featured dishes inspired by the produce they sourced from the market, and part of the thrill of an OWT lunch was turning up to see what was on that week – often getting a preview (and occasional review) from the person next to you when their plate arrived.
Last week I caught up with Esther to find out what life has been like for her and James (partner and chef) during lockdown, and to hear more about their exciting plans for later this summer.
OWT During Lockdown
Many of our favourite independent food places started to re-emerge during lockdown, remoulding themselves to offer temporary take away or delivery services to their faithful customers. After a few weeks of contemplation, OWT decided a cooking from home delivery service wasn’t really a viable option for them “We instead took this valuable time to think, plan, research, cook, cook and more cooking,” Esther tells me.
OWT also kept in contact with their many regulars on their social media channels and posted several of their favourite recipes, including one of my favourites, Parsley Chimichurri, which I will get around to making very soon. Speaking of recipes, Esther tells me that since opening in December 2018, they have featured a total of 65 dishes! With this in mind, writing an OWT recipe book has commenced during lockdown, and it’s hoped that it will be ready to go on sale by the end of the year.
The Future – Moving on OWT
Before the pandemic hit us, Esther and James had started to think about how to expand their business from the small unit they occupied in Kirkgate markets “Our regulars would often say to us, ‘When are you moving to somewhere bigger?’ We knew ourselves that we needed more space in order to achieve our dreams.”
It was when they found out through the manager of the Leeds Corn Exchange (who is also a regular OWT customer) that a unit had become vacant at the premises, they decided that the time was right to move.
For the OWT faithful, there is no need to worry as Esther clearly confirmed “We are keeping the same concept, with our ever-changing menus, continuing to use the freshest produce that Leeds markets have to offer. Keeping the same ethos is so important to us. We have loved working with the market traders since OWT opened. We haven’t move far; we are only across the road from the markets.”
OWT’s seasonal, French bistro style small plates will be continuing, although the menu won’t change quite so often as it did previously. There will also be a daily fresh deli serving sandwiches, salads and Esther’s delicious cakes and sweet treats. Finally, there will also be the option of big plates for those wanting a larger lunch. Having affordable options for everyone is also important to them as their customer base is so diverse, and keeping the small plates options supports this.
OWTs new home will have enough space to seat 30 people inside without any social distance restrictions, and half of that number with restrictions in place. Esther also delightedly tells me “We have the kitchen of our dreams.” There will also be a social ‘hang out’ space where OWT merchandise will be on display. The space will be available to hire out for meetings, exhibitions and workshops.
Whilst Esther and James will miss the buzz of their tiny unit in the markets that has served them so well, it is very clear that it’s time for a change, and the future looks exciting. As one of those regulars pre-lockdown, I too am very excited to check out their new venue and get back to enjoying their tasty food once more!
Follow OWT on their social media channels via www.owtleeds.com to keep up to date with their Corn Exchange opening later this summer.
Photograph of Esther and James by Shaun Page.