At first glance it may seem that there is very little going on in Little Germany. However there are several notable cafés and restaurants located in this quiet, mainly residential, area of Bradford. In the first of this two-part article the owners and managers behind some of these businesses discuss how they are meeting the challenges of operating in this quiet corner of the city…
Located a short walk from Bradford city centre and the new Broadway shopping centre, Little Germany is an architecturally significant area that was once at the heart of the international wool textile industry.
Enjoying its commercial heyday during the nineteenth century, the wool merchants have long since left and the 85 imposing Victorian buildings they vacated have been converted into flats and offices.
Aside from these beautiful buildings the most striking thing about Little Germany is the fact that it’s, well, quiet. (Very quiet, in fact).
For those of us who live here, this can be a blessing. However for the handful of restaurants and cafés operating in the area it presents a clear challenge.
Indeed See Hung Pang, manager of Bangkok Thai on East Parade, comments, “The location is challenging because we are slightly out of the town centre, hidden away if you like.”
Imran Ahmed, owner of Cona, an upscale restaurant next to Bangkok Thai on East Parade, agrees, “There’s without a shadow of a doubt a lack of footfall.”
Nik Dickens, manager of Guzelian Café Bar on Church Bank, even admits the location made him think hard about taking over the role in January of this year. He says, “I was slightly wary, having done a little ‘secret shopper’ type of thing of the establishment before starting and knowing that we had not a lot of footfall, but being aware that there were a lot of residents and offices in Little Germany, so we had a client base.” He adds that his reservations were short-lived and, within a month, “I knew what we could do with it and where we could be.”
Frank Simpson, co-owner of Café Patisserie at the edge of Little Germany on Barkerend Road, also admits that he gets “very few” walk-ins, but does enjoy lunchtime trade from nearby office workers.
However, while these businesses clearly appreciate the issue of low footfall, it’s interesting how each views the challenge.
Cona’s Imran Ahmed says that because the restaurant hardly gets any walk-ins, “We pride ourselves on being this destination restaurant, where people visit Little Germany especially to see us.”
It’s a strategy that is clearly paying off. He continues, “A majority of our business comes from outside of Bradford. Areas like Manchester, London, Leicester and Birmingham make up a large percentage. We regularly have at least 20 to 30 tables a week from London and Birmingham. Some of these guests book a hotel locally, stay over, and have dinner with us.”
Similarly Guzelian’s Nik Dickens says, “I’d like people to come because they’ve found us and we’re a destination for the night.”
Café Patisserie is in a slightly different position because of its location on a main road and the fact that, prior to moving to its present location, the café/restaurant successfully operated from premises less than half a mile away on Otley Road for six years.
Frank Simpson says, “We did a survey of our customers in our old place because I was a bit nervous about moving down here. It turned out that 90% of our customers came by car. We’ve got a car park round the back and we don’t really have a problem with low footfall.”
Without high levels of passing trade I wondered how big a role word-of-mouth plays for Little Germany’s cafés and restaurants, and how they utilise social media to their advantage.
Cona’s Imran Ahmed says word-of-mouth plays a “massive part”, and the business also has a significant presence social media. “We do everything – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even LinkedIn. We like to post at least every day, if not twice. The reason we’re quite active is because we run a seasonal menu. Everything’s fresh, everything’s sourced to particular dishes, so we start afresh every day.”
Likewise Guzelian’s Nik Dickens has fully embraced the power of social media. “I would say that everything we do at the minute is through social media. Twitter just seems to be a beast in Bradford. It really, really works for small businesses. We’ve also got a new website, which enables me to do promotional offers. But Twitter and Facebook are our main marketing tools.”
Interestingly, Café Patisserie’s Frank Simpson has a slightly different take. “We’ve always been word-of-mouth and my business partner started doing social media stuff around 18 months/two years ago.”
He adds, “Social media, I think, for businesses, is not necessarily a good thing. Recently we’ve had about 70 or 80 reviews on Trip Advisor with something like 65 five-stars, but you’ve only got to have five one-stars and it skews it. Someone came in once and said everything was great, but didn’t like the background music…four stars.”
Ultimately businesses – especially those in the catering and hospitality sector – are judged on the quality of their offering. On this issue the people behind some of Little Germany’s cafés and restaurants are very clear about the direction they would like their businesses to take.
For Imran Ahmed this means keeping Cona well and truly on the UK’s gastronomic map as a destination restaurant. “We don’t have any competition locally, we don’t have any competition nationally – simply because no other restaurant in the country is doing Halal food at this level. That’s the reason we’re getting foodies travel from all over to sample what we’re doing. We offer every single diner the best possible gastronomical experience with world class produce. Some of our customers pay an average of £50 to £70 for a steak. Nobody locally demands that.”
He continues, “I can’t think of another restaurant, not even in Leeds, that has Kobi and Wagyu on the menu. I think you’d truly have to travel somewhere like Manchester to have that standard of meat. So, I think what we’re doing here is truly special.”
Guzelian’s Nik Dickens has brought the café/bar a long way since taking over the helm, and has even bigger plans for the future. “People come now because they’ve seen us on Trip Advisor, Twitter, Facebook, and they want to come and try tapas. If you want tapas anywhere else you’ve got to go to Leeds, so we’re doing something that’s unique in Bradford.”
He is also moving into outside catering, extending the already varied menu into other areas, including takeaway options, and bringing in special products, such as a unique coffee blend, courtesy of local roaster Casa Espresso.
He continues, “I think every opportunity we come across here we treat it as another revenue stream, but we’re not going to take our eye off the ball of the café/bar.”
Café Patisserie’s Frank Simpson says, “When we opened up we wanted to be unique, and I think we still are, even though a few people tried to copy us.”
He continues, “We wanted to offer the Asian population something they hadn’t had before; hence that fact that most, I’d say 99%, of our menu, is either English or Mediterranean.” However he has plans to widen his customer base, noting that during Ramadan, “Our business goes down 80%, just like that. Overnight, it just disappears.”
It’s interesting to note that the businesses featured here are all relative newcomers to Little Germany. Cona has been trading for just shy of two years, while Guzelian and Bangkok Thai have been operating for around 18 months. Café Patisserie moved to its current premises on Barkerend Road in October 2015.
In addition you can find the likes of Yo Yo Café Bar on Chapel Street (established back in 2002), Jar O’Clock, which recently opened on Peckover Street, and a branch of Indian restaurant, Jinnah, which opened on Leeds Road in 2015. Collectively these businesses are contributing to what is widely seen as a resurgence of Bradford.
This is good news for Dave West, spearhead of Little Germany Action, a not-for-profit organisation which exists to promote the area.
He comments, “Having been in Bradford for 30 years (a resident in the city centre for 15) it’s been very hard to find a good selection of bars, cafes and restaurant across the spectrum. That’s changing for the better and needs to keep changing to compete with other cities of similar size.”
However, he warns that those of us who live and work here should not become complacent. “For it to work, Bradford people must use these outlets and support them – use them or lose them.”
Part two of the article looks more at how Little Germany’s restaurants and cafés fit into the wider ‘revival’ of Bradford, including the future opening of the Sunbridge Wells development.
It also asks what the future may hold for this deceptively quiet area of the city.
Bangkok Thai: www.bangkokthai.uk
Cona Restaurant: www.conarestaurant.com
Guzelian Café Bar: www.guzeliancafebar.co.uk
Café Patisserie: www.cafepatisserie.co.uk
Little Germany Action: littlegermanyaction.org