Leeds needs to create more fine dining ‘destination’ restaurants in order for the city’s food industry to have a significant impact on tourism and the economy.
The food guru of the north, Thom Hetherington, has joined the team at the Leeds Independent Food and Drink Academy to share his knowledge and expertise with the city’s up-coming ventures.
Speaking exclusively to City Buzz, he said in order to maintain the level of growth Leeds is seeing in other sectors, the food industry needs at least three ‘show-piece’ places to tempt visitors from around the country and overseas.
It would then, he suggests, encourage overnight stays and spends in the wider economy such as hotels, shops, museums and attractions.
Mr Hetherington said: “We have to look at tourism and visitor economy and the impact. For that what you need is destination restaurants that get written about nationally and internationally.
“The Red Book - North Americans still swear by it. We need to attract gastronomy fans and they need to be high spend.
“Leeds has ‘The Man Behind The Curtain’ but if you want overnight stays you need two or three serious food restaurants - one people can’t get into, one people don’t fancy and another.
“It would become a visitor destination and the other restaurants, independents and chains, would step up as well.”
However, it is Leeds’ buoyant scene of independent and start-up foodie ventures that prompted to him to work with the Academy.
Having spent 20 years working in the food industry around Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle, with his role as chief executive of trade exhibition, Northern Restaurant & Bar and founder of Restaurant magazine, he is constantly asked to get involved in more projects than time allows .
Mr Hetherington said: “I am not constantly looking for jobs but every now and again one comes up and it compels you.
“Over the last couple of years I have developed a real passion for start-ups and entrepreneurs because I still feel like one.
“There was a report about how important food and drink start ups were, in terms of economic and social impact, and it inspired me. In Leeds, you look at what is happening and it excites me and I want to be a part of it.”
Since his appointment with the Academy he has been visiting the city’s vast and varied range of eateries and is particularly impressed by Laynes, Ox Club and Bundobust - which started small but have seen both their business and brand develop.
“The place that surprised me the most was Bundobust because it was as good as everyone said it was. They are clever operators and in terms of what it does it gets it 100 per cent. I will watch with interest to see how they develop.”
Mr Hetherington also backs schemes like Trinity Kitchen which give traders a six week platform without the need to commit to long contracts and loans to get started.
He added: “In Leeds there has been early and significant support for independent food and drink businesses. It would be interesting to run the numbers to see if Leeds has a better independent scene compared to other cities. It does feels disproportionately more buoyant and vibrant.”
For more see www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/ifda/