Sandbach and Crewe - are they the new destinations for foodies in Cheshire
10:30 16 February 2017
Sandbach and Crewe are flying the flag for good food. Emma Mayoh discovers there’s quite a tradition for it here.
There was a time when chips and jam roly poly were about all you’d expect in a college canteen. But not in Crewe. The Academy Restaurant and Deli, at South Cheshire College, dispels all the stereotypes usually associated with school meals.
The training restaurant would look more at home in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. It’s a place for hospitality and cookery students to hone real skills for the world of work. With the help of lecturers, the students cook for customers on campus, including visitors, staff and pupils, as well as for special occasions and live music evenings. They also provide outside catering for Nantwich Town Football Club, supply baked goods to local shops and cater for weddings, funerals and corporate functions. It is a training and grounding that former chef and faculty director, Mark Parsons believes is essential.
The pupils are guided by lecturers including former Rookery Hall chef Shane Guildford and Daniel Hunter who has over 15 years in the industry. The restaurant was set up with the help of young chef Luke Thomas who has Luke’s Eating House and Gin Rickey’s Bar in Chester as well as Retro Feasts in Dubai. He continues to work with students to maximise their potential along with other guest chefs.
The Academy Restaurant and Deli also provides premises to other independent producers and suppliers including The Jaunty Goat Coffee Company, based in Chester. The restaurant supplies apprentices to all Brunning and Price’s pubs and restaurants in the UK.
The students’ efforts were recognised when the restaurant and deli was awarded a Highly Commended AA College Rosette and declared a Centre of Excellence for Service. It was commended for its service and food and for its collaboration with local companies including Rodney Densem Wines, who host wine evenings, the restaurant’s catering for Nantwich Town and also providing cakes for Marks and Spencer Money in Chester, through a partnership with Oswestry-based The Little Food Company.
Mark said: ‘It’s the equivalent of getting two AA rosettes in the industry and it’s such an incredible thing for us to have done. These achievements set the bar high regionally, both as a training college and as a restaurant.’
Students Matt Evans said: ‘Studying here and getting this experience is invaluable for my own progress.The whole experience is preparing me for my future in the workplace. I want to go all the way and work in the top kitchens. I want to be a head chef and succeed at what I love. I am regular member of the team that provides catering through the college for Nantwich Football Club.’
Food is big business in Crewe and Sandbach. One of its biggest hitters is Mornflake, established in 1675 and run by the Lea family. It was first in Swettenham before moving to Sandbach– a site still used by Mornflake’s sister company. The company then moved to Crewe. It is one of the area’s major employers – as well as the UK’s fastest growing cereal brand. They have created numerous products made from oats over the years and will next year launch a new sugar-free granola, which has been five years in the making. They are also hosting international events, including one in Dubai aimed at promoting oats which can make dishes healthier.
Deputy managing director James Lea runs the firm with his father and managing director, John Lea, along with brother, Edward and cousins, John Butterworth. The former accountant rejoined the family firm around seven years ago.
‘We have to constantly evolve,’ said James, 36. ‘But it is all still based on those oats that were first milled all those years ago. It is a constant challenge to reinvent things and adapt. After the war years it was hard to sell porridge because people were fed up with it from rationing.
‘The backbone of our company is the people who work for us and the amazing Cheshire countryside that allows us to produce these incredible oats. We are so lucky. So many companies like us have moved abroad but our heritage is very important to us.
‘We are a big part of the community and support many different things. It’s a part of who we are. We wouldn’t want to be based anywhere else.’
Down the road, in Sandbach, there is another family business working hard to transform the fortunes of one of the town’s pubs. The Wheatsheaf, in Hightown, was an old-fashioned pub in need of some tender loving care.
The former coaching inn was built in 1890 and was historically used by residents at Crewe Hall who were taken there to eat and drink. It has now been taken over by the Pear family, who own the successful Congleton restaurant, Pecks.
A huge renovation of the old building has been undertaken. Jake Pear, son of the company’s owner Andy, is the general manager of The Wheatsheaf and will use the training he received working in the family business as well as at the Australasia in Manchester, to make the new venture a success. It is hoped their Sandbach venue will be the first of a new arm of the business, the Quintessentially British Gastropub Company.
‘We had been looking for a new site for a while,’ said the 23-year-old. ‘But we hadn’t found anything that was going to work. Then we saw this building. It needed a lot of work and it was outside what we had first intended but it’s working really well.
‘We’ve been really busy from our first day open and it doesn’t show any sign of letting up. We’ve got plans for other areas of the building this year. It seems like there is a bit of a revival of top quality establishments in Sandbach. Piste is going to open soon and we have DV8. We all complement each other. It’s an exciting development and we’re pleased to be a new part of the Sandbach community.’
Sandbach Makers’ Market is a thriving local event. Taking place on the second Saturday of the month in Market Square, it was established by The Makers Market in conjunction with Sandbach Town Council and the former Sandbach Farmers’ Market.
There are dozens of local producers who sell their wares and promote their talents as well as live music and entertainment. There is a great selection of local food, drink, art and craft as well as children’s activities. The market pulls in hundreds of people each month from across the county and further afield. It’s also well supported by the local community. The Sandbach market is one of several Makers’ Markets across the north west.
Kayleigh Dixon, event manager at Sandbach, said: ‘It has a fantastic atmosphere. We have so many great producers and stallholders who love being here and people love visiting the market.
‘I’m very proud to be involved in it. Not only does it showcase what fantastic people we have here who are doing brilliant things, but it also is s great family day out and an event that really boosts trade for the other businesses in Sandbach too.’