Today I’m posting an article I wrote some time ago* for www.tastetoday.co.uk. As Jo needed to free up some space on her site, the article is available again. So as I really enjoyed writing it, I thought I’d re-share it on the blog. Hope you enjoy.
At Taste Today, you know we love good food. Particularly when it’s local, fresh and made with plenty of love. Especially when it’s well located with a bustling atmosphere making it a great place to sit, chat, and chow down. The perfect recipe for good times… we think so. And boy do they roll at Altrincham’s wonderfully renovated Market House.
Now serving over 6000 ‘foodsters’ a week – this place really has become the food and drink hub of this (once again) fantastic market town.
Last weekend, I met up with Nick Johnson, the Chief Executive of Market Operations at the market, for a chat about how it all started, how it’s been carefully curated and some exciting plans they have for the future.
A Historic Market Town – Making Altrincham Great Again
It all started about 3 years ago. Initially as a conversation between Nick and Trafford Council. The ambitious idea that Nick put to them was simple: if Altrincham is to turn itself around, it needs to go back to its history, it needs to become a great market town once again.
Altrincham has held its market charter since 1290; so being a wonderful market town is nothing new to this place. However, years of different management of the Market House had seen it lose its original charm. So when Nick and his team won the bid to become the market’s operators, a refurbishment was well and truly needed.
The Market House itself is a beautiful listed building. During the refurbishment, Nick and his team sought to put back what had been taken out over the years, giving it back the grace and elegance it once had.
The new counters are versions of what was there originally, and as they stripped away years of shop fit, lots of the original parts of the building (including the original paint colours) were still intact.
“It is within a market that individually and identity can express themselves.”
Carefully refurbished to maintain its original aesthetic, the look and feel of the Market House is truly warm, friendly, fashionable and unique.
Nick has always been somewhat fascinated with markets, so he and his team have their work cut out for them. It is their job to be selective and curate an environment where people can come together, eat, drink and enjoy themselves. He pointed out, that when you visit a town, you can usually get a greater sense of the spirit and the soul of the place by visiting their market. Because unfortunately, all the high streets are often ‘the same’.
It is within a market that individually and identity can express themselves. So getting the right mix of people to trade in the market is the absolute key to its success.
What’s on offer
The prerequisites to be invited into the market as a trader is that you are “better than good”, and are based in the North West of England. Nick says the market is about “reinforcing the culture and identity of the North West” particularly through food, though not exclusively.
The market also showcases crafts, vintage and home ware stalls to ensure the market engages and embraces a wide field of interests. Traders invited into the Market House were those who Nick and the team considered to be “the cream of the crop”. They had to make sure that they were the right mix of people, to ultimately create the right kind of experience.
The outside space
The layout of the market is simple. There is a large, covered outdoor section. Here pitch a range of resident traders such as Taylor’s Fishmongers, fantastic fruit and veg stalls, a cheese shop and butchers.
Also in this section are a few of my favourites like Trove Bakery. Also the wonderful Bounce Back Foods; who run a scheme to feed Manchester’s homeless people. They give a donation to a local food bank for each food item they sell.
Towards the far end of the outdoor section is a wonderful array of hot food; Honest Crust have an outdoor pizza oven as well as a beautiful blue mosaic oven inside the Market House.
More key traders outside
Nasi Lemak serves up their fantastic array of Thai and Malay street food. And Yakumamma serves vibrant and exciting Latin American-inspired street foods. The Belgian Bar also has a stall outside, if you fancy a fine beer to accompany some truly original scran.
Inside Market House
If all this wasn’t enough, it’s the inside of the newly renovated Market House which is the true show stopper.
Here you can find the market’s key traders: Honest Crust Pizza, Wolfhouse, Tender Cow, Market House Coffee, Sam Joseph’s Chocolates, The Northern Pie Company. As well as Reserve Wines and Jack in the Box beers… And there are still 2 spots to be filled, so watch this space.
The Market House is open early every day until 10 pm at night, except Sunday’s when it closes at 6 pm, and Monday’s when it’s closed all day.
It really is hustle and bustle from dusk until dawn. The perfect place to pick up groceries, take the family out, or meet friends for dinner and drinks. They really do have all bases covered. And I’m excited to see who they select to run the two remaining counters.
Plans for the Future
During the last weekend of March, Altrincham Market is hosting the “Alt. Festival of Food & Drink,” which is to be 3 days celebrating the very best food offerings of the North West of England.
The most exciting part is that the Market House is teaming up with top chef Aiden Byrne from Manchester House. Aiden is a big fan of the market, visiting every Sunday for lunch with his family. He got together with Nick and the team; plans are now underway for him to curate a sit-down meal on the Sunday of the Festival. The meal will be cooked by the resident Market House traders; in a spectacular ‘Manchester House meets Market House’ collaboration. Definitely not to be missed.
Overall, I think Nick and the team have done an excellent job at reviving the Market House. It’s also ultimately had a knock-on effect for the revitalisation of Altrincham overall.
With a team of 45 + people running the market, it has also created some wonderful employment opportunities for local people. I’m sure they will continue to go from strength to strength and remain always true to their tagline: Passionately regional. Fiercely independent. Not available online.
*Originally posted in March 2015.