First look inside new bar and pizza place Proven People in Sunderland city centre

Colourful cocktails, live DJ sets and hand-stretched pizzas are on the menu at a new bar and restaurant serving up a slice of something different for the city.

Friday, 2nd July 2021, 11:19 am

Friends Lee Forster, Paul Stewart and Elliot Towsey are well-known in the local music scene for their decades of experience in DJing and events.

Now they’ve channelled their mutual passions for good music and good food into Proven People, a new bar and restaurant in Burdon Road that’s bringing to life one of the city centre’s period properties.

Opening to the public from noon on July 2, the new business has transformed the former Victorian railway management office opposite the Museum & Winter Gardens which has stood empty for a number of years since its time as Divino’s Pizza.

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The new Proven People in Burdon Road
The new Proven People in Burdon Road

Around £100,000 has been invested in creating a brand new bar, open plan kitchen, sound system, DJ booth and extensive building works whilst also making the most of the site’s original features including period wooden window frames, parquet flooring and exposed steel beams.

A new outdoor dining area at the back of the site has also been created for al fresco food and drink.

Paul, a former resident DJ at Newcastle clubbing institution Shindig, says the project has been a labour of love, in which they’ve ploughed as much care and attention into the music policy, as they have the menu.

"As friends we’d meet up and would always end up discussing how we’d like to open our own place and how we’d like to do something that wasn’t at the behest of other operators,” he said. "Music is often down the pecking order, but it’s such an important factor and sets the whole mood.”

From left head chef Leon Dodd, owners Lee Forster, Elliot Towsey, Paul Stewart and general manager Jordan Crulley.

The menu features pizzas, including a charcoal option, as well as deli boards, small plates and salads, which is served during the day with a carefully-curated playlist from DJs local and national.

On evenings, people will be able to enjoy food and drink with the backdrop of a laid back live DJ set, with the venue open until 2am on weekends.

Music will cover a broad range of genres, such as disco, funk and tracks equated with the White Isle.

Paul said: “So many places have regurgitated play lists, but we have eight days worth of music ready to go, so regulars will always hear something different.”

The new Proven People on Burdon Road for pizza, small plates, beers, wine, cocktails and good music.

Head chef Leon Dodd has years of experience working in restaurants and pubs in Sunderland and say it’s great to be working in an open kitchen, where people can see him preparing the dishes.

"There’s so much happening in the city and it’s great to see,” he said. “We really want to help put Sunderland back on the scene.”

Lee is from Sunderland but in years gone by had always socialised and DJ’d in Newcastle at club nights such as Dada.

But, noticing a wave of investment and new openings in Sunderland, he says he wanted to help bring something new to his home city.

Pizza options include a charcoal pizza

He explained: “I live nearby this site and would pass it all the time, so I’ve had my eye on it for a while. It’s an incredible space and we knew we could work with the old features to create something new for the city.”

Speaking about the name, he said: “The name comes from proving dough for pizza, but also because everything here has been proven and tried and tested by the staff, it has a lot of meanings.

"We’ve really thought about the food and drink and used local traders, we really want to support the community.”

The new site has created 16 full-time jobs, as well as a number of part-time and DJ roles. Among the full-time staff is general manager and bar tender Jordan Crulley, formerly of popular bar No28 in Newcastle, whose cocktail list is inspired by music tracks, with names such as French Kiss, Little Fluffy Clouds and I Feel Love.

As well as draught and spirit options, there’s also a wine list of natural wines from Kork Wine & Deli in Whitley Bay.

Art works too are inspired by music, and feature posters from club nights over the years, as well as specially-commissioned portraits of Grace Jones, Frankie Knuckles and Andy Weatherall.

There's also an outdoor area at the rear of the site

Proven People is the latest addition to the city centre which in recent weeks has also welcomed new openings such as Cafe 1851 in Mackie’s Corner, Undisclosed in the former D’Acqua in John Street, Spent Grain in John Street and bars Street Bar and Halo in Low Row.

*Proven People in Burdon Road is open Sunday to Thursday from noon until 12pm and Friday to Saturday from noon until 2am. A booking system will be in place, but walk ups are also available.

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There's an open kitchen so you can see dishes being prepared
Specially commissioned artworks adorn the walls
There's around 60 covers with social distancing
Proven People has transformed the former Divino's pizza site