Charlie Brett’s restaurant has been a favourite with cricket lovers for decades – and is now bringing up its centenary in time for next year’s Ashes at Headingley.
In many ways, Charlie Brett’s – now rebranded simply as Brett’s, although the adjoining takeaway still carries the old name – is a little incongruent in this day and age.
In an era when restaurant openings often resemble red carpet events and when prestige seems to be conferred by the number of tables or the extravagance of the decor, Brett’s defies convention.
It sits, rather unassumingly, at the end of a neat little terrace of residential cottages just off North Street, a stone’s throw from Headingley’s main drag.
At a glance, you might mistake it for a house. But dining destination this most certainly is and if the new managers have their way – as they intend to – it will be for some time to come. For Brett’s has another formidable point in its favour. While many restaurants crow about making it to their first, fifth or tenth year in business, Brett’s is now into its 100th and will mark its centenary next year.
Two months ago, the business was given a new lease of life by two businessmen who have cut their teeth in some of the best restaurants Leeds has to offer. Shaun Davies is the man who put The Foundry – recently sold to Masterchef finalist chef Matt Healey – on the map. Before that, he ran a farmhouse restaurant in Menorca before returning to Leeds in 2004.
Alongside the 48-year-old is Dave Ridealgh, 26, the former restaurant manager of Brasserie 44 and a protégé of father Steve Ridealgh, formerly of Michelin-starred Pool Court Restaurant.
Together, they have brought about subtle yet distinctive change to one of Headingley’s best loved institutions, changing the menu and installing a new bar. Shaun grew up in Harrogate and began his career in the restaurant industry as a pot washer at William and Victoria, which is where he met Phil Richardson, with whom he ran The Foundry for 12 years.
He progressed to chopping veg and eventually became a chef. But his association with Brett’s goes back a long way, when he would visit with his family after coming to watch rugby and cricket in Headlingley.
The father-of-three, who also has two stepchildren, is excited about the new challenge and the possibilities. A keen sports fan himself, he’s already made inroads in terms of making the place known to local stars.
“From The Foundry, I know Peter Lorimer, Eddie Gray, Tony Dorigo, Simon Grayson... we’ve got to know Ryan Sidebottom, he was up last week and Geoff Boycott has been in already a couple of times for lunch. The restaurant has so much potential in terms of appealing to the people who come here to watch the cricket but also the students and their parents who come to the area for the first time.”
David concurs: “With Brett’s, I think we wanted to make the restaurant more of an offering, we just wanted a different style, still keeping the fish and chips but a couple of notches up market. People are coming in and are pleasantly surprised with what we’re doing. “
The business was started by Arthur Brett in about 1899. He acquired a horse and cart and worked as a carting agent. In 1919, he launched a new venture by going to Leeds market everyday bringing fresh fish back to his shop to sell. Working with his son Charlie, they expanded the business in the 1930s by also creating a restaurant.
It gained its national reputation through cricket with famous players and commentators becoming its most devoted customers.
Shaun says: “This is a true neighbourhood restaurant. There aren’t many places which can say they have been there 100 years. But we can.”
Next year, when the Ashes comes to Headingley, fans will be hoping for centuries of a different kind but if they fail to materialise, Brett’s will step up to the crease.