Northgate Street is clearly the place to be. In the last 12 months, it’s seen the largest influx of new businesses in the city – encouraged no doubt by the success of Storyhouse and the impending Northgate Development. Whilst other areas of the centre display a smattering of ‘closing down’ signs, Northgate Street continues to flourish and thrive, ripe with foodie start-ups and collaboration.
This year alone we’ve seen Vegan Jaunty Goat, Hypha and Chip’d set up shop, with Sweet Elements and PicNic due to open this June. A walk down around this side of town is a very filling, tasty experience.
Hopefully, you’ve not missed the late 2018 opening of Docket No. 64 either – an independent wine bar which replaced Ginger (after The Racecourse had an unsuccessful go at it).
When co-owner Fran invited me to lunch there last week, my knowledge of the place was sketchy. I’d popped in once or twice to enjoy their recommended gin of the day and support a friend with her business launch (Defined Cheshire) but had yet to take the time to appreciate the finer details. And like all great independents – it’s the story behind it and the journey to it, that ignites my interest. Obviously, we expect our beloved indies to deliver beyond the build-up, but a heartening story is always a good start, and Docket64 certainly does deliver; delicious, locally sourced sharing boards, a curated drinks menu, a cosy, community atmosphere and enticing tasting nights, in abundance.
‘Stuart and I met when I was the front of house manager and he was the exec chef for Abode Hotel. We’re super cliche!’
The couple went on to work in the Middle East together: ”We got an opportunity in Qatar, opening independent restaurants for Qatar Foundation. During that time we realised, the further we got up the ladder the less enjoyable we found our jobs. Stuart loves cooking and being in the kitchen and I love being with the guests. When we came back, where we wanted to be was doing it for ourselves, even though we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s about happiness and quality of life.’
Back in the UK, they explored a whole host of options for their new venture, between where Fran (North Wales) and Stuart (Staffordshire) are from. ‘We were sat in Artichoke one night having a glass of wine, about to throw in the towel and get jobs working for other people again. The next morning, the Whitchurch venue was in our inbox, right in the middle of where we’re both from. So much about it felt fated.’
Docket NO. 33 is a larger set-up and predominately a restaurant in the market town, Whitchurch. They were always keen to create a wine bar in a city at some point down the line, but perhaps not when their son, Finn, was only three months old. The former Ginger site, now christened Docket NO. 64, was just too good of an opportunity to miss. ‘We’ve created the kind of place we like to chill out in; locally sourced ingredients, cheese and charcuterie – have a nice glass of wine and just pick. If you want to go out on your own, read a book, do some work, it’s comfortable. That’s the vibe we wanted.’
I’m interested to know to what extent they’ve maintained Ginger’s supplier relationships (pre racecourse management). ‘Jade’s (Ginger owner) been super supportive. She came in on day one, on her mum’s birthday. They’ve been so lovely and helpful. Wonderfully, we’ve also had previous suppliers come and talk to us. It’s taken a little while but our team is now made up of people who believe in the business as much as we do. It feels like a family.’
Fran treats me to two of their sharing boards, The Shropshire and The Cheshire. We’re talked through the beautifully presented selection including items such as, ‘Burt’s Blue, smoked chicken, house ham and trout, Appleby’s Cheshire, fennel salami…baked-in-house digestives and beer bread, and onion seed biscuits.’
My comments get increasingly more minimal as I tuck in. ‘All of our food is sourced from Shropshire, Cheshire or Wales – all of our borders,’ Fran tells me, ‘We get our cheese from The Cheese Shop. Carol really advises us. She’s an absolute inspiration – making a huge success out of what she passionately cares about. Everything in here has a story. Paso-Primero is a Shrewsbury based wine business we use – the wine label has a little wren (the bird of Shrewsbury) which can be found where they make their wine, and it’s atop a ladder to signify their first step into winemaking. We love stuff like this.’
A charming gent interrupts to say, ‘Excuse me, ladies, you’ve just sold your painting in the loo.’
Fran explains the vast array of art up on the walls. ‘We’ve got too much at the moment. We did an exhibition. He’s an artist we met through Whitchurch. We like to support local artists and we’re really open to working with creative people, particularly artists trying to get started. That’s how we’ve got where we are, the help and support of others.’
I’ve made a good dent in the lunch, enjoying every single nibble. There’s just enough time for Fran to reflect on her and Stuart’s adventure, building something of their own.
‘The hardest thing about starting your own business is you go from being protected by a company, delivering someone else’s vision, to putting yourself out there. One person doesn’t make a business, it’s a collective effort: staff, customers, community. There’s usually a lot of laughter in here and people talking, getting to know each other.’
Overheard, this encourages the art-buying gent from before to pop over again and we get talking about how much he loves the wine selection here. Friendly people, great wine, stories and moreish cheese; I think I’ve found my new local.
Open 11-11 every day.
Photos courtesy of Jonathan Thompson.