Last year, Shaftesbury shoppers enjoyed the experience of one-off pop-up shops. Now a town centre café is offering new food choices through a series of pop-up restaurants.
If the plan works, themed food nights and a Sunday daytime brunch club could become regular events. ThisIsAlfred found out more.
Jade Stacey is baker and manager at Shaftesbury’s High Street Bakery. And on Saturday 2nd March, between 6pm and 9pm, she’ll be slaving over a hot and spicy stove as diners sample her Thai food selection, during the first of a series of one-off dining events.
Jade says she wants to create a culinary occasion. “It’s really just to do something in Shaftesbury and to bring the community together and have something a bit different in the evening,” explained Jade. “We’ve all exhausted the Indian and the Italian for a bit and we keep hearing people say that there’s nothing really for them to do when they’ve been to quite a few of the pubs. They just fancy something new, so we’re just testing it really.”
Marlene Stanley owns the High Street Bakery. “I just want to increase activity in the High Street. I don’t know that a lot happens so it’s nice to have an extra occasion and to get the business building and thriving,” said Marlene.
Many reports on the future of Britain’s High Streets have stressed the importance of encouraging people into towns for leisure activities and food. Jade believes that dining experiences can draw people into Shaftesbury. “We keep seeing shops closing. We’re just trying to get people back into the town and remind them what is here,” said Jade. “If they come one evening, they can see the sort of stock we have and what our ethos is here and they might come back in the week and then see the other shops when they’re open.”
And a pop-up restaurant makes the most of their bakery’s resources. “We’ve got the kitchen there all evening and we just don’t make the most of it anymore,” said Jade.
Shaftesbury is, of course, a small town compared to Gillingham or Salisbury. Jade says she has considered whether this extended service is viable. “It a little bit of a worry but I do think there’s enough people here and so hopefully they’ll get behind it. We’ve had such lovely feedback. We’ve had a lot of our regulars come in,” said Jade.
Marlene has owned the business for a year and half. She doesn’t expect that the restaurant will expand into nightly opening. “It’s because of the logistics and the laws and licensing. I don’t think it could be all the time, but we would like to make it a bit more than it is at the moment,” said Marlene, adding that the interest in the event has been encouraging.
Jade believes there’s demand for regular and changing food events and she is considering Sunday opening, too. “The plan would be a monthly pop-up thing. We are also closed on a Sunday and there’s not a lot going on. So we’re hoping to do pop up brunch too. Whether that’ll be monthly or weekly, we’re not too sure, but we’re putting the feelers out there.”
Buckinghamshire-born Jade sampled many different cuisines during two years of continuous world travel. She’s chosen Thai as her opening pop-up restaurant theme and says that she will serve up her signature sweet treat. “We’ve got a banana dish on the deserts, which is quite authentic street food. I think it’s a bit different. It is one of my favourites and also the chicken dish, the Thai chicken, is really good,” she said.
Jade learned Thai cookery skills when she toured the country. “I couldn’t work there on my visa but I was able to meet people and learn from others, whether it was in hostels, hotels or on the streets. There was a bit of a language barrier. I travelled around for quite a few months.”
And Jade believes that the pop-up evenings will offer her a showcase for the cooking skills she’s developed during her travels. “I’ve got a bit of a repertoire, which I’ve never been able to use in the bakery in the daytime, but we’ve had quite an interest in a tapas, Spanish-theme. That’s been coming through quite strongly from many people. That’s probably going to be on the cards quite soon,” said Jade.
The High Street Bakery has partnered with another local independent, Shaftesbury Wines, for the Thai food night. “They will be supplying alcohol for people if they wanted to buy any bottles on the night,” said Jade.
Jade, a self-confessed Mary Berry and ‘Bake Off’ fan, said she leapt at the chance to manage a bakery when she was offered the role. She starts work when many Shaftesbury residents are asleep. “I can start anytime between five and seven,” she said. And, surprisingly, the anti-social hours appealed to her. “Probably the main drive was the hours, crazily,” said Jade. “I know it’s early starts but it is straight shifts. I worked at Indulge, but I did the catering. Then I came through to the baking from there. My main thing is cakes. I loved doing the cakes.”
Jade has enjoyed learning about breadmaking and experimenting with different types of bread. “We’ve got so many good ingredients on our doorstep, especially places like Stoates,” said Jade, who is a fan of the NR Stoate & Sons flour mill at Cann Mills near Shaftesbury. “We’re so lucky and actually they’re really helpful. They give us so much good information. We’re growing as we go.”
But Jade finds one loaf tricky to bake. “Something we are struggling with at the moment is a 100% rye recipe. We’re having a bit of trouble with our flour and we’re still working on that one,” she said.
Owner Marlene hopes that the initial Taste of Thailand will give Shaftesbury diners a hunger for more pop-up food nights in the future. “Hopefully people will come out, enjoy it and it will give them something to look forward to,” she said.