The story of Elder, the restaurant that's Halifax's only entry in the Good Food Guide 2020

Leeds chef Justin Thomas has unexpectedly found himself leading a gastronomic revolution in Halifax.

Elder at The Piece Hall in Halifax
Elder at The Piece Hall in Halifax

The former head of food development at Friends of Ham in Leeds was looking for his own premises in his home city when the chance came instead to open a unit in Halifax's Piece Hall, the stunning Grade I-listed cloth hall and plaza that has been restored to its 18th-century glory.

In 2017, Elder opened on the same day the new Piece Hall was unveiled to the public, and Justin and his wife Lisa Jakimciw are now celebrating after their 'quirky British' restaurant was the only entry from Halifax to be included in this year's Waitrose-sponsored Good Food Guide.

The Holmfirth sheep farm that became Britain's highest vineyardThe pair were on their only week's holiday of the year when their social media channels erupted with the news that Elder was in the esteemed publication - and they returned to Calderdale to find a letter from the Good Food Guide waiting for them.

Justin and Lisa run the business together

"I've been a chef for 10 years now. It's a second career for me, I previously worked in university administration," explains Justin during a break from a busy lunchtime shift in the kitchen.

"I worked at Friends of Ham and Kendall's Bistro in Leeds, and I've done stints in Sheffield and London. I'd been pondering my own business for a while - the dream was to open my own place. We did a few pop-ups and supper clubs, but it was just a fortunate chance that we were offered a space in the Piece Hall - we hadn't really been looking at Halifax until then. The building is phenomonol, and we loved the idea of it - we're big fans of Italian plazas.

"It was definitely the Piece Hall that drew us to Halifax - we'd been looking at Leeds before."

The full list of the 76 Yorkshire entries in the Good Food Guide 2020Justin and Lisa spent six weeks fitting their unit out, and were so keen to be ready for the Piece Hall's grand opening day on August 1, 2017 - Yorkshire Day - that they even spent the first week of trading without a gas supply, operating instead as an outdoor pop-up.

"The Piece Hall has been great for Halifax, it's brought a lot of businesses in. We are still finding our feet, but we've got some good momentum now and we've had fantastic support from the local community. We've got to know our local customer base, and we do get people coming in from all over the country who have found us while visiting Halifax."

The team get all of their ingredients from local suppliers, with fish and meat coming from stalls at Halifax Market.

"We describe our food as quirky British. We do some dishes that people are familiar with but we also offer a unique perspective, we use ingredients that might be new to people, like unusual cuts of meat.

"The atmosphere is informal and relaxed, it's a really nice evening out."

Justin also feels the Halifax dining scene is improving and evolving all the time.

The market stall that became Doncaster's first-ever entry in the Good Food Guide"There are some good new restaurants now, like Glor and Engine, which is a bit further out in Sowerby Bridge. There are lots of exciting things happening, and I think it's more noticeable with the new bars springing up and the craft beer scene. There's Temperance Coffee House, which has Ritual Bakehouse inside and offers a really good lunch and brunch service."

There are no plans to expand Elder, with Justin and Lisa happy to focus on consolidating their existing offering.

"We've come a long way in two years, and we still have the capacity to grow our trade. We don't want to be too ambitious too quickly.

"The Good Food Guide listing has already made a difference, we are on more people's radar and a lot of our regulars have mentioned it too."