This article was also published in the Financial Times.
At the age of 66, and three years into his second career as the chairman of Notes, a company that specialises in coffee, food, wine and the appreciation of classical music and film, Alan Goulden has had to face a new challenge: what to put on his first-ever breakfast menu.
This breakfast menu is now on offer at the fourth branch of Notes in the heart of Leeds, Yorkshire, following the success of their three London cafes. And it is meeting with great success not just to Goulden’s delight but also to that of Marion, his wife and business partner.
The other six restaurateurs and the equally charismatic teams behind the five pop-up carts which since 17 October have been attracting hordes of customers to the first floor of the Trinity shopping centre, an area now known as Trinity Kitchen, alongside the Gouldens are also smiling.
Their collective path to Leeds is almost as unlikely as that of Andrew Turf, 33, who as retail manager for the owners of this shopping centre Land Securities has masterminded this unusual but exciting eating area.
Born in Chicago into the family that started the homeware store Crate + Barrel, Turf moved to LA before being lured to London. Having met Turf on several occasions, I get the impression that his life outside the office falls into two equal halves: eating, drinking or undertaking commercial espionage in bars, cafes and restaurants around the world and working it off in the gym.
Three years ago, Turf was handed the challenge of creating a successful venture out of 20,000 sq ft of far-from-attractive space in the centre of Leeds that, to compound his problems, was located not on the ground floor, as any retailer would demand, but up an escalator on the first floor. He decided to turn this challenge into the pursuit of pleasure.
Trinity Kitchen now comprises seven permanent restaurants, all of which are new to Leeds: Pho Café for Vietnamese food, which served 283 customers during its first lunch; the 360 champagne bar that was packed when I visited it at 3.30 pm, mainly, to Turf’s delight, with young women drinking champagne; Tortilla, PizzaLuxe and Chicago Rib Shack for Mexican, Italian and American food; and Chip + Fish, ostensibly serving British fish and chips but in fact masterminded by two Frenchmen, Pascal Aussignac and Vincent Labeyrie, who originally made their name in London at Club Gascon. Their lobster roll and chips at £11.50 seemed, unsurprisingly, particularly popular with the ever value-conscious Yorkshire customers.
Although permanent, these restaurants operate on a ten-year lease, shorter than most commercial leases. Alongside the far wall, but with equal prominence, are five pop ups that operate on only four-week leases. Every month their colourful but heavy mobile kitchens are taken down from the first floor by a hydraulic lift that brings in their replacements.
Turf has selected these with guidance from Richard Johnson, who initiated the British Street Food Awards. The initial line-up of pop ups includes Indian food from Manjit’s Kitchen; Italian snacks from Gurmetti; Scottish recipes via the back of a converted horsebox from Katie & Kim; tea and cakes from The Marvellous Tea Dance; and Big Apple Hotdogs from the extremely loquacious Abiye Cole.
Turf had just finished explaining to me that the common traits in all the permanent restaurateurs he sought out were a passion for their food and the welfare and education of their staff above profits when Cole took a break from grilling his hot dogs to come over and talk to us.
Dressed in a red beret and wearing red trousers, a red apron and trainers and a Big Apple Hotdog T shirt, in red and white naturally, Cole seemed to delight in talking about his hot dogs almost as much as grilling them. He explained how he made them in a small unit just off Old Street, east London; how much success he has had in selling his hot dogs to other restaurants, including one of Heston Blumenthal’s pubs, on the stipulation that they refer to them as Big Apple Hotdogs on their menu; and how he was about to set up his own butchery in order to maintain quality.
Trinity Kitchen breaks the mould of so many depressing food courts through this juxtaposition of the permanent and the temporary. But this sense of its overall appeal as more than the sum of its various parts is also due to a colourful but singularly non-interventionist design from Samantha Smith and Sophie Douglas at Fusion Design. There are no walls delineating any one restaurateur from another, no divisions between the permanent and the pop-ups, and the seating for 700 is communal. This last factor brought another smile to Turf’s face as he watched one elderly woman being served a box of ultra-thin pizza by Laura Paige, the young Colombian who founded PizzaLuxe, while her husband sat opposite with a piece of banana cake and cappuccino from Notes.
But what has brought a smile to the Goulden’s faces, most of the time, they admitted, was quite how different their new profession is from their former one when as music retailers they dealt with such giants as EMI, Universal and Sony. Goulden shakes his head as he recalls how these companies imploded, unable to deal with online downloading. Nothing like this, he now fully appreciates, stands between a customer in search of a Notes full English breakfast and a freshly made cappuccino.