How OWT on Kirkgate Market is creating a stir on the Leeds foodie scene

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 January 2020

James Simpson and Esther Miglio

James Simpson and Esther Miglio

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In Leeds’ Kirkgate market a neat little eaterie with its heart in a good place is causing a bit of a stir

An old marketplace with a new lease of life sowed the seeds of food adventure for twentysomethings Esther Miglio and James Simpson.

They felt perfectly placed to open their cool little cafe with an ethos of using ingredients from the market stalls that surround them in historic Leeds Kirkgate Market.

'OWT' is their baby. A small but impressive restaurant that is getting a lot of love from foodies and prides itself on using ingredients sourced only from their market neighbours.

The concept for OWT, with that beautiful and oh-so Yorkshire name, is 'simple home cooked meals that everyone can afford,' says Esther.

Owt in Leeds Kirkgate MarketOwt in Leeds Kirkgate Market

That means making anything from mustard chicken with jasmine rice to kofta style steaks or vegan bruschetta. The interior reflects their premise; simple and classic with a modern twist, decorated in white and burgundy with cooking ingredients painted across the wall. The couple soon hope they can says that ingredients are 100% sourced from the market when a new dairy unit opens a few doors down from them.

Inspiration for locally sourced meals came partly from Esther's upbringing in France where fresh fruit, vegetables and fish are readily available. Esther's parents were talented cooks: 'Between the inspiration that I grew up with and James' skills, it just makes something quite unique,' she says.

OWT's menu changes weekly and is inspired by the seasons with fresh salads in the summer and comfort food such as fish pie in the winter. You might sit down to deep fried spicy chicken wings (gluten free) with fried potatoes and pickled cabbage - delicious. Menus are decided a month ahead of serving, which is easy to do now the couple see the other traders as a 'kind of family', helping give suggestions of what to serve with their produce.

Fruit and veg is largely sourced from Carlos, Neil's or Tony Banks, meat from Nigel Gifford or JP Johnston and fish from Tarbett's.

It's certainly a more business-like way of planning compared to the couple's first creative process: 'Drinking two bottles of wine every Saturday night and writing the menu according to what one craves,' laughs Esther.

Their concept of using produce only from the market to cook simple but tasty meals has encouraged customers to do the same. About 70% of OWT's consumers now shop at the market. 'It's really rewarding, we have a young crowd ranging from ages 20-35 who are very interested in good food, where it comes from and how they can enjoy a meal without feeling guilty,' says Esther. She loves knowing that her food has been locally sourced and that the money she spends at the market is stays with the other small businesses.

Esther and James started the business in November 2018 and helped by a positive review from renowned food critic, Jay Rayner, they have been non-stop.

Owt in Leeds Kirkgate MarketOwt in Leeds Kirkgate Market

The pair met at a music festival in the South of France where Esther, 24, was working and James, 29, was playing with his band (he happens to be an impressive drummer as well as self-taught chef).

Esther had plans to move to Manchester in the coming weeks and later agreed to a job as James' apprentice at Food Revival, an organisation that works to address the issue of food waste, which would soon become an inspiration for the concept of their restaurant.

Whilst working stints at Food Revival, LS6 and Hyde Park Book Club, the couple had aspirations of starting their own business. It wasn't until James found an affordable unit at Leeds market that they realised they could go for it.

In the early days of opening, Esther and James, who 'got lucky with our relationship as business partners' were working 8.30am-5pm, six days a week and spending Sunday afternoon baking ready for the week ahead. Now that the business is flourishing, they have been able to take on staff - and the occasional rest day.

Says Esther: 'We're happy that we're tired because that means it's working. We weren't expecting that much in the space of a year'.

The name 'OWT' is clearly taken from Yorkshire dialect and literally means 'anything'. Esther says that 'anything' is 'exactly what we're doing, we change the menu weekly, we cook whatever we have at our disposal.'

They wanted a name that was 'something quite short, funny and modern but also traditional. We're in an old market, there's lots of history here, lots of Yorkshire, northern history.'

A year after the launch of OWT, the business is thriving and they have plans to expand their seating area. Coming from France where employers enjoy the luxury of an hour and a half lunch break, Esther takes pride in the fact that her customers chose OWT as their spot to relax on their (albeit much shorter) break from work.

They dream of opening a restaurant in the years to come and have even come up with a name. Watch this space. 

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