A new cafe hopes to spark a revival of independent shops in a once-thriving city centre high street.
Simon Forster has opened No 18 Holmeside in the former Chic and Iconic clothes store, in Holmeside, which had stood derelict for a year.
He’s ploughed £25,000 into converting the site into a cafe and coffee shop, serving up premium tea and coffee brands and a quirky take on classic cafe fare such as pear, Brie and Nutella paninis.
“I’d been looking for premises and had got a call while in Debenhams to say another site had fallen through,” he explained. “I walked down Holmeside and saw the To Let sign and rang the agent immediately. I got a viewing that very same day.
“It was pretty run down, as it had been vacant for a year, but I walked in and knew exactly what I could do with it.”
Simon spent the next three months renovating the site and giving it a more inviting frontage, in the shadow of the £29million Sunderland College campus which is currently under construction.
He said: “There’s a few independent businesses on this street, but I hope there will be more. I believe people in Sunderland deserve more than a run of the mill takeaway. I keep getting told that Sunderland isn’t as adventurous as it used to be, so I’ve tried to do something different. Holmeside used to be the place to be, it was a buzzing street, and people would spend thousands on a Saturday at its shops. Hopefully it will get more footfall with the new developments.”
The menu includes a range of Dammann Freres loose leaf teas, Illy coffee, gourmet fish finger sandwiches, hand-made meatballs and classic breakfasts served all day.
Food is available from 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday, with plans to offer Sunday brunch in the coming weeks.
Simon, who’s created six new jobs with the opening, said: “I picked up a lot of things from hotels I’ve stayed at and going to coffee shops in London, I’m fed up with what’s offered in chains. I wanted to bring something that’s luxury, but affordable.
“We’ve only been open two weeks, so we haven’t pushed the menu yet, we’re trying things and seeing what works. I did a lot of research before opening and had the girls from the hairdressers next door in to trial the menu. We want it to evolve and bring in different tastes and textures.”
Speaking about the decor, which includes driftwood collected from Roker Beach and books people can read over a coffee, Simon said: “We wanted to make it cosy and comfortable, like sitting in your living room, but with a contemporary feel. We want people to come in a relax. So far, the feedback has been great, people say they like the ambience.”