“Covid made me realise our Allerton café could be a community hub”
3 months ago
By Janet Tansley
She’d never planned on café ownership but the chance to take over the popular place she already managed was one she couldn’t refuse.
Now Hannah Todd is planning to turn The Interesting Eating Company on Allerton Road into a thriving community hub with talks and workshops, craft sessions, and more.
Hannah, 35, says: “The pandemic brought many of us together; we have all become closer as a community.
“That’s generally in some sense, but also in terms of the bars and cafes around here – people that we used to see our competition and didn’t really talk to, all we wanted during Covid was that we all survived, that we would all make it through.
“You didn’t want to see people who’d been working as hard as you putting up signs to say they were closing their doors. And that’s brought the business community a lot closer together, and us all close together.”
Hannah wants to build on that closeness and offer the local and wider community a place to go to and use.
Not least because it was the community aspect that drew her in in the first place.
“That’s what I bought into,” she admits. “The Interesting Eating Company is more than just a place to eat and drink.
“There are many people who just want a cup of coffee. But for many people, it’s their routine, they come in every day and we panic if we don’t see them for a while; and likewise they care about us if a staff member isn’t around.
“It’s amazing how much people will divulge when they’re ordering a cappuccino or a latte; and you see people on their best days and sometimes on their worst days. You have conversations and build relationships. It’s the same with staff who work here who you support on the road to other careers, and others you see come out of their shell and thrive.
“It is a community of sorts, and I love that aspect.”
Hannah goes on: “It made me sad when I was closing our doors every night to think that TIEC wasn’t getting used as much as it could be, it seemed to me to be a waste.
“So I recently put out a post on Penny Lane Gossip Facebook group that it was here for people who maybe wanted to use it for workshops or to host talks, and I’ve already got a few lined up.”
There are going to be children’s tutoring sessions and crafts in the evenings when the shop is traditionally ‘closed’, and craft workshops like knitting and crocheting arranged for the daytime. And Hannah would love there to be more.
“At the moment they are free because I want the place to be used,” admits Hannah. “It helps me because more people will know about us, but it also means it is somewhere people can come together.”
It’s a very different career Hannah might have envisaged following the Imaginative Writing degree she studied at university.
But hospitality was always something she did while she studied.
“I worked briefly for The Windows Project, a charity in Bold Street which helps local writers going into schools to teach creative writing, but even then I was working in a restaurant because that wasn’t full time.”
Hannah joined The Interesting Eating Company 10 years ago, first as assistant manager in Allerton Road, then as area manager for the group working for venues across the country, then back as manager at Allerton Road.
When owner Andrea Edwards had to rethink her business after lockdown, she offered Hannah the chance to take it over.
“I would never have thought about being a café owner, but before I did everything bar paying the bills. So I already felt it was like my baby, and now I get the chance to see her grow up, and Andrea is my business coach which is great.”
The menu at The Interesting Eating Company remains inclusive with the idea that everyone can choose what they want to eat and do so safely, thanks to everything being prepared fresh and as homemade as possible.
Hannah is creating her own brand of maple syrup, so people can take home a little of the café with them, and she is even having TIEC t-shirts made.
Her greater plan is to create a new TIEC, the same as now, but bigger and with bigger ideas.
“In five years I would love to be doing what we’re doing now but bigger and better,” she smiles. “I’d like to find a space that’s big enough for us and concessions, so we could have artists there, a private counsellor there, beauticians… with the emphasis being on wellness.
“This was a finger-in-the-wind conversation I had with a member of staff who went on to work in care and we talked about having group sessions in the evening. It’s about evolving, and this would be about old-fashioned community with a modern take.
“That’s the dream.”
For now she is grateful to be doing what she is: “After Mr J announced people shouldn’t go to cafes etc., I thought that was it, I was done.
“But I managed to keep The Interesting Eating Company alive and I’m very proud of that.”