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From payroll staff to business owners: some of Manchester’s biggest lockdown success stories

These inspiring stories of success from the local Manchester hospitality scene prove that opportunity really can come. out of adversity

Georgina Pellant Georgina Pellant - 30th December 2021

A global pandemic might not seem like the time to launch a new business, but these Manchester entrepreneurs have done it with flair.

Overall, it’s been a tough old time for hospitality in Manchester, with tougher restrictions imposed in the region ultimately equating the past two years to one big lockdown – give or take a few months.

Still, for some, the combination of lockdown and furlough gave them a golden opportunity to break away from their day to day payroll drudgery and begin anew – making dreams of owning their own businesses into a reality.

For others, projects began simply by trying to help people less fortunate during their time of need.

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Whilst, admittedly, during the first lockdown everyone and their mum seemed to be taking the time to master their own banana bread (making flour more valuable than gold, it was joked), others went a step further and tried their hand at more complex creations – with considerable success.

Yes, many novice bakers also realised during this period why exactly it is that you pay £3.50+ for a loaf of sourdough as they attempted, often unsuccessfully, to cultivate their own starters. But others mastered that sourdough (or lasagne, or doughnuts, or vegan burgers) – proving that opportunity really can come out of adversity.

Keep reading to discover some of the most inspiring stories of success from the local Manchester hospitality scene, all born out of – or helped along by – the successive lockdowns of the past (nearly) two years.

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Le Social Wine

Conscious natural wine shop and wholesaler Le Social Wine was born during lockdown when owner Jérôme Boullier started delivering wine to his friends (by bike, wherever possible).

Charging a small fee and donating profits to charity, the business quickly grew into a specialist retailer and wholesale – working closely with the likes of General Store, Common & Co, Butcher’s Quarter and Feel Good Club to name a few.

Fast forward a few months and soon Le Social had found a base at Ancoats’ Pollard Yard – joining a community of like-minded thinkers that ultimately lead to collaborations, tasting, supperclubs and takeovers with local Manchester businesses including The Molly House, KAMPUS and Bread Flower.

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Follow Le Social Wine here.

Eat Well MCR

Image: Eat Well MCR

Founded by chef Mary-Ellen McTague alongside friends Kathleen O’Connor and Gemma Saunders a week before the first lockdown hit, Eat Well MCR began as a drive to feed the NHS but has since grown into so much more.

At the time, panic buying had emptied supermarket shelves and many medics were coming off gruelling shifts to find they couldn’t get anything to eat. Simultaneously, restaurants were still open but had no customers – leaving chefs with empty dining areas and fully-stocked pantries, watching good food deteriorate.

Image: Eat Well MCR
Image: Eat Well MCR

McTague had a brainwave. Facing her own empty restaurant kitchen, with a load of donations of fresh food that had no other place to go, she felt that “the obvious thing to do was to cook the food and take it to those who needed it.”

A restaurant-backed charity, since March 2020 Eat Well MCR has grown into a food poverty-fighting force, creating thousands of healthy and nutritious meals for those in need – mostly families living in emergency accommodation with no cooking facilities.

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Utilising food that would otherwise have gone to waste, the team later launched an online marketplace to support their restaurant partners products and, most recently in the run-up to Christmas as restaurants were besieged with cancellations, Eat Well stepped in to take dinners that had already been paid for and deliver them to some of Manchester’s most vulnerable.

Follow Eat Well MCR here.

DGHNT

Image: DGHNT

Sulin Baldwin was managing FIN at Mackie Mayor when the pandemic hit. She’d planned on visiting Thailand for a month-long cooking course, but when the borders closed she started her own brioche doughnut business instead..

Her loss was definitely our gain, and perhaps also hers, as she went on to become hugely in demand and now stocks her doughnuts at numerous spots around town including Corner Slice Pizza, Factory Coffee and Mackie Mayor, as well as delivering them herself around Manchester and Altrincham.

Just ‘one woman in her kitchen making artisan brioche doughnuts from scratch’, she recently said “I started out DGHNT in my kitchen frying in a wok (!) and never thought I would be ploughing out the amount of doughnuts weekly that I am now – I am very grateful for you guys!”

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She’ll return in the new year with three new themed boxes, inspired by Willy Wonka, Funfairs and Mexico. Follow DGHNT here.

The Palms Bakery

Image: The Palms Bakery
Image: Slowgoldie

The home of the shaggy cake, we suspect that Rachel Samuels at The Palms Bakery must have made more birthday cakes for Mancunians than anyone else this year. So aware was she of her USP, she even took to selling cards out of the bakery featuring the likes of Carol Baskin, Lizzo and Harry Styles.

Rachel has certainly been in high demand since leaving her job in recruitment to pursue baking full time just before the first lockdown.

Since opening her own unit in Ancoats’ Pollard yard, she’s made hundreds of cakes and even gone on to create cakes to be used as props on photo shoots. They’re so beautiful, we have to say we’re hardly surprised.

Follow The Palms Bakery here.

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Loaf

Image: Loaf MCR
Image: Loaf MCR

Whilst furloughed, Loaf founder Aiden started baking from home to raise money for the NHS. Within a month, he’d raised £1,000 selling just 120 sweetie and chocolate-loaded loaf cakes and carried on baking until restrictions were lifted – at which point he was ready to hang up his apron strings and return to his day job as a manager at Belstaff.

Life, however, had other plans – with Ezra and Gil getting in touch to ask if he might consider baking cakes for their cafes after seeing them on Instagram. Feeling it was ‘meant to be’, he said yes – and hasn’t looked back since.

In the past year and then some, he’s not just supplied Ezra but also Feel Good Club, Hampton and Vouis, Propeller Coffee, Makers Quarter and more. Now, he’s fundraising to open a cafe all of his own on Oxford road.

You can donate to the fundraiser and help make the dream a reality here.

Follow Loaf here.

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Things Palace

A Pan Asian-inspired food concept curated by Lorcán Kan formerly of Stockport’s Where the Light Gets In, Things Palace first began life as a supper club concept in 2019 but over lockdown became a regular pop-up around town and a frequent fixture at Platt Fields Market Garden.

During lockdown, he also worked on The Sausage Factory, a project from WTLGI that made deli-style items, and The Pickle Factory that made, well, pickles. At the same time, he went on to collab individually as Things Palace with the likes of Issca Wines, Mackie Mayor, Eat Well MCR, Honest Crust and EATMCR at The Refuge.

This September, he announced plans to move back to his native Australia and has taken Things Palace with him – where he continues his good work, with a thriving new business, in his native Melbourne, having just announced his first 2022 event at Sleepy’s neighbourhood cafe and bar.

Good luck to him (and a big well done on escaping plague island). Follow Things Palace here.

Gooey

Image: Gooey
Image: Gooey

Launched just before the first lockdown began, Gooey pivoted the hell out of its business model to become one of the most in-demand at-home bakery delivery services in Manchester.

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First opening inside Wilson’s coffee in February 2020, it soon took its chocolate chip cookie slabs and bulging doughnuts on the road – reopening in May for delivery. By July, they’d opened a kiosk inside Ducie Street Warehouse and can still be found there today slinging all manner of sweet goodies, as well as at Ramona on the weekends.

Owned in part by the team behind Manchester food influencers EATMCR, the success of Gooey has since enabled them to open a second site, Arlos, which sells natural wines, deli snacks from local suppliers, and more adventurous cakes created by the Gooey baker team.

Follow Gooey here.

Saint Croissants

Image: Saint Bakery
Saint Bakery

Loaded croissant bakery Saint Croissants was launched during lockdown in May 2020, after Manchester-based Mum Aimée Soudry’s marketing work dried up thanks to Covid-19.

Full of her own creativity, married to a Frenchman and frankly sick of baking banana bread, she began honing her pastry skills.

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Initially, she was just baking her jazzy loaded croissants for family, friends and neighbours to cheer them up during what was a rather bleak time, but after sharing her creations to Instagram they soon became somewhat of a viral hit – and she hasn’t looked back since.

Aimée’s business now boasts a nationwide delivery service, her own ‘Saint Swag’ merch line, offers masterclasses and hosts corporate events.

She also collaborated with Northern Monk Brewery this year, having been chosen for their Patron’s Project, which resulted in a Limited Edition Banana Cronut Flavoured Imperial Stout called Go Bananas – inspired by her cronuts of the same name.

Follow Saint Croissants here.

Vegan Shack

The best new bars and restaurants that opened in Manchester in 2021, The Manc
Image: Vegan Shack

Coming from humble beginnings cooking in a flat kitchen in 2019, to opening a new plant-based kitchen on Piccadilly Gardens, Vegan Shack has to be one of 2021’s biggest indie success stories.

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Dimeji and Saffron have come a long way from spending their last £30 on food for their dark kitchen concept. They opened a store in Collyhurst, which offered deliveries and collections throughout the pandemic, allowing them to go on to open a store in Piccadilly Gardens at the heart of Manchester.

Now their loaded fries, kebab creations, wraps, shakes and more can be found right in the centre of town – and they’re incredibly popular with local vegans.

BadaBing

Image: BadaBing

The home of the two-fisted hoagie, BadaBing first made headlines with its soprano-inspired sandwiches during lockdown – but has stayed the course thanks to an ability to actually deliver the goods.

One of Manchester’s biggest lockdown success stories, they began slinging sandwiches out of a hatch on Back Piccadilly – at the time, considered one of Manchester’s best-kept lockdown secrets.

They later went on to open up a unit in Salford, and can now be found Wednesday to Sunday at Ancoats General Store from 11.30am until they sell out (a regular occurrence).

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Lazy Tony’s Lasagneria

Image: Lazy Tony’s Lasagneria

Five-layer lasagnas from one of the city’s best-known bartenders? It was always going to be a winner.

After leaving his job as a manager at Brewski in Chorlton, Danny ‘Keko’ Smith launched his Lazy Tony’s concept mid lockdown from a dark kitchen on an Ancoats back street.

Promising numerous flavours of lasagne plus Italian-inspired sides and sweets – all painstakingly made from scratch – the hype was real, and he more than delivered.

This year saw him open not one but two sit-down spots, collaborating with Foundation in the northern quarter and his Radium street neighbours Witch Kings Rum on boozy brunches hosted in the terrace behind the Radium street kitchen, as well as keeping collections running from his dark kitchen.

Now he’s on the hunt for a new space as his lasagne empire continues to grow.

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Kong’s Chicken Shop / Meat and Three

Former CBRB bar manager Tom Potts introduced Manchester to his hench chicken sandwiches via pop-up Kong’s Chicken Shop this year – and we haven’t looked back since trying his extra game-changing layer of fried chicken skin, or chicken ‘crackling’.

What began as a collection-only pop-up inside the Oldham street ramen shop where he worked whilst it was closed during lockdown, soon progressed with outside tables, before moving into Salford, then into the Northern Quarter and Foundation on Portland Street before landing at Ho’s in Didsbury Village.

This year also saw the team roll out an amazing fried chicken roast dinner (also served with chicken ‘crackling’), collaborate with Spinningfields bar Clubhouse to serve a brunch menu and, later, incredible Christmas kebabs, as well as launch a second concept called Meat and Three, which is proving just as popular down at Northern Monk Refectory.

Follow Kong’s Chicken Shop here and Meat and Three here.

Bread Flower

Image: Bread Flower

Combining homemade sourdough bagels and schmears with hand-tied bouquets of flowers, Bread Flower’s unique brunch concept was the quite hit in lockdown – perfectly hitting the stay-at-home message with ready-made brunches and table decorations delivered straight to your door.

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Established in April this year, longstanding friends Maya Black and Scarlett Jamieson decided to combine their love of sourdough bread and flower arranging after Scarlett moved back from London and Maya found herself with time on her hands to master her sourdough technique and turned to bagels during the first lockdown.

“From making a dozen bagels at home for friends and family to hand rolling hundreds of them ready for deliveries, it’s been quite the journey,” said Maya.

The pair have since moved into KAMPUS, tying flowers and baking from the Aytoun street spot daily before going on to open their own pop-up cafe in the bungalow. Along the way, they’ve hosted supper clubs, yoga events, workshops, and markets, growing from a bagel and flower delivery service to a fully-fledged operation.

Follow them here.

Birria Brothers Tacos

Image: Edible Bible via Birria Brothers Tacos

How could we forget Birria Brothers Tacos? It’s no secret Manchester has an obsession with anything to do with gravy, so when The Koffee Pot team launched this concept during lockdown it was inevitably going to go mad.

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Creating queues that saw people waiting for two hours or more to get their gravy taco fix (ok, technically it was consomme, but we all called it gravy), Mancunians jostled in line to get their hands on one of the most in-demand lockdown creations of the year.

A roaring success, this concept by The Koffee Pot managed to outlast their other lockdown idea, DD’s burgers, the Instagram page for which still reads ‘laying dormant while we smash Birria Bros Tacos’.

The Birria craze proved that Mancs really will do anything for a good pot of gravy – continuing life as a pop-up every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 4-9pm to this day.

Follow Birria Brothers Tacos here.