See inside new Fat Unicorn deli breathing life into historic city centre site
A new deli has defied the difficult business climate to open its doors in an historic city centre building.
As part of the ongoing renaissance of Mackie’s Corner, on the corner of High Street West and Bridge Street, The Fat Unicorn has opened, providing specialist cheeses, meats, nibbles, ice creams, wines and cocktails you won’t find on the supermarket shelves.
It’s the brainchild of husband and wife team Scott and Amanda Martin who have a combined 30 years’ experience in the high end hospitality sector, working in esteemed restaurants and hotels such as Newcastle’s Michelin-starred House of Tides, The Rosewood London, The Square Mayfair, as well as luxury ski company Ski Verbier Exclusive.
Like all those in the hospitality sector, they lost their ski season jobs due to Covid and returned to Sunderland in March. There, they came up with a way to utilise their skills by launching Fat Unicorn, delivering freshly-made meals to people’s doors.
It proved a hit and helped pave the way for their own deli, which opened this week as a kitchen store, with a view to offering a sit-in option for wine and cheese nights in the future.
"We always thought hospitality was a safe bet, so it was a really despairing time when Covid hit,” explained Amanda.
Speaking about launching their first business venture, Scott said: “In the first lockdown we were making a really good turnover, then Eat Out To Help Out happened and less people were ordering in.
"We’d always had a plan to open a shop one day, so we used the delivery service as a kickstarter.”
Using their established contacts in the industry, the pair work with local suppliers, such as artisan food producers Harvey & Brockless for meats, cheeses and more; bread from Sunderland bakery Bread&; Northumberland’s Doddington Dairy for ice cream and cheeses; cocktails from Newcastle bar Mother Mercy; liqueurs from Feck Drinks, coffee from Ouseburn Coffee co, a range of specialist wines which will change regularly, as well as their own brand chutneys, sauces and granola.
Amanda said: “We wanted to provide the kinds of food and drink you usually have to travel to Newcastle for. There’s definitely a market for this type of produce in Sunderland and we’ve had a lot of interest already. During the pandemic, people have certainly become a lot more interested in independent businesses and the quality they can provide.”
As well as the food, the name of the business has become a talking point. “It came from a T-shirt we saw that said ‘save the chubby unicorns’ (referring to rhinos),” explained Amanda. “A lot of people don’t understand it at first, but it’s become a conversation starter.”
Fat Unicorn is the latest business to move into The Hutchinson’s Buildings. A landmark building which has watched over the city centre since Victorian times, it’s had many guises over the years, most famously housing Mackie’s Corner – named after Robert Mackie, whose shop attracted passers-by as his workers could be seen through the windows making hats
In later years, the buildings housed city institutions such as Chambers nightclub, but had been empty until they were bought by city property developer Henry Kirtley and daughter Alex.
The pair are renovating the Grade II-listed buildings to bring them back to their former glory and to house city businesses as part of the wider Historic High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HAZ).
Scott said: “There’s a lot of hard work that’s gone into the buildings and it’s great to be part of that. There’s a lot of work taking place in this area and, along with the developments on the Vaux site, it should create a real buzz and more footfall.”
Other businesses to open in Hutchinson’s Buildings include Bou-Chique clothing, Black Door Hairdressing and the soon to open Sweet Petite bakery.
*Fat Unicorn is open Monday to Saturday in December, from 8am to 7pm and from 8am to 5pm on Christmas Eve. In January it will be open Tuesday to Saturday from 8am to 7pm.