Home for food artisans takes shape

THE East Anglian Daily Times has been given a sneak preview of a new artisan food producer ‘hub’ taking shape in Suffolk.

Based in an old agricultural building.in Wherstead, near Ipswich, the �2.2million Suffolk Cookhouse is a revolutionary concept bringing food producers together in the same way as hi-tech start-ups so that they can collaborate and support each other - and take the industry to a new level.

Leading this ‘food incubator’ venture are cousins Rob and Oliver Paul, who have already created another, highly successful, farm diversification. Suffolk Food Hall, on the site. It was launched five years ago in another old farming building and is now turning over �2.5million.

They have secured an East of England Development Agency grant for the Cookhouse project, and builders are now nearing completion.

The artisans will be based on the ground floor and customers will be able to walk through, see them at work and stop for a chat. Upstairs will be a restaurant, which will include magnificent views one of Suffolk’s most eye-catching buildings - the Orwell Bridge - and surrounding countryside. There will also be conferencing and educational facilities.

The cousins are now seeking artisan tenants for the ground floor, and have already lined up two - James Alexander of The Main Ingredient in Ipswich will be creating his own brand of delicatessen food and sandwiches, and Jam Gourmet Doughnuts.

“We have got lots of interest,” says Oliver.

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Rob adds: “For a lot of these guys, it’s a big step taking their business out of their kitchen and into commercial premises. At the same time, we think a facility like this will give them the support of a peer group around them so they can share ideas.

“We can get them into one place with our ideas and views of what sells. It gives them the strongest opportunity to succeed.”

They are also including a smokery and a micro-brewery in the design, although they have not decided yet whether or not they will run that themselves (as they run the butchery within the food hall).

The building work itself has been a challenge.

“There has been a bit of a juggling act between keeping the original character of the building and getting it up to building regulations and making it function to what we need,” admits Oliver.

Built by the cousins’ grandfather in around 1969/70, the frame of the old fodder store building is made of Malaysian hardwood, which has been retained in the design.

“When we built the Food Hall, it was a leap of faith,” says Oliver.

However, both cousins feel the pressure is on with the new building, which includes various environmentally-friendly features, including ‘light tubes’ to provide natural light in the inner part of the ground floor. At �1.7m to build, and about another half a million pounds to fit out, it’s almost double the investment of the food hall.

“If people are going to travel somewhere they want a special reason to go there,” says Rob. “The view is everything I had hoped for and I had very high hopes. I just think it’s a stunning East Anglian view and you couldn’t get a better one really.”

Such ventures are a risk, he admits, especially in a time of economic uncertainty.

“You have got to have faith in what you are doing and seize the day,” says Rob.

The cousins hope to open around mid-July.