It’s lunchtime and strolling down Malton’s Market Street you’re hit by an enticing waft of slowly cooked tomatoes and spices.
The source of these heady aromas is the Purple Carrot, a colourful vegan and vegetarian deli, that does a mean line in homemade samosas, pies and cakes that sell like, well…
It’s owned by Polish-born Kate Zaleska and her husband, Rafal. They moved to Yorkshire eight years ago and began selling their tasty morsels at farmers markets in places like Thirsk, Masham and Malton.
The farmers market in Malton proved particularly popular so when they decided to set up shop it seemed like the obvious choice. “We were looking at different premises and last year this came up. It had been an old jewellery shop before and needed a lot of work, so we rolled up our sleeves and here we are.”
They’ve been open since last October and business is booming. “We used to get a lot of people visit us at the market and now they come here. We are seeing a lot of returning customers which is nice. I always think word of mouth is the best advertising, rather than social media.”
Kate, a vegetarian for more than 20 years, was making vegan food long before it became cool. “It’s enjoyment for me,” she says. “Young vegans tend to go for replacements, like fake burgers and sausages, but for me you don’t have to make it look like a burger to make it nice.”
Everything is made in her kitchen. “We just sell what we make and if things run out we make some more.” And having a bricks and mortar base in Malton is working well. “I like what is happening here with all the little producers, because it’s hard to find the space to produce things and distribute them. So far it’s been very good.”
The Purple Carrot isn’t the only place that’s flourishing in the town. It’s part of a success story that has seen 26 new food and drink businesses open in the last five years, which in turn has had a knock-on effect, attracting other boutique and independent shops to the area.
It’s ten years since Malton set out on the road to become Yorkshire’s self-styled “food capital” – a term coined, ironically, by an Italian – the late Antonio Carluccio.
Tom Naylor-Leyland, whose family own half of Malton, has helped mastermind the town’s reinvention. It was during a visit to London’s Borough Market when he noticed how much Yorkshire produce – everything from Whitby crab to rare breed pork – was on sale, that he had his eureka moment. “The idea seemed simple to me – promote Yorkshire food in Yorkshire.”
The seeds were sown with the annual Food Lovers Festival, which returns later this month with guests including acclaimed chefs Tommy Banks, from The Black Swan, and Sabrina Ghayour. Back in 2009 there were 25 stalls and just over a thousand visitors, compared to this year’s two-day event which is expected to attract 30,000 people.
This was followed by the creation of the monthly food market (second Saturday in every month). “We realised that our job isn’t to just create one food festival, we had to be able to get people to come here on a wet Wednesday in February,” he says.
Calling the town “Yorkshire’s food capital” and creating Malton Cookery School were further pieces in the jigsaw. Arguably the biggest challenge, though, was making Malton the kind of place you want to visit any day of the week, especially in the face of growing pressure from online retailers and the well-documented decline of our high streets. “After five or six years we asked food producers not just to open a shop here but to make their products in the town, because we wanted people to enjoy an experience. We wanted places people could visit on a small, artisan scale.”
This was the idea behind the development of Talbot Yard, home to half a dozen independent producers including Roost Coffee and Roastery, Bluebird Bakery, The Groovy Moo, an award-winning ice cream parlour, and master patisserie Florian Poirot who’s come all the way from France.
Talbot Yard has become a tourist attraction in its own right and the nearby Navigation Wharf is the latest phase in the town’s foodie renaissance. It’s home to several new businesses including Dom’s Kitchen, an event catering company run by husband and wife team Dominik and Emma O’Connor, that opened last September.
“People outside the area now think of Malton as a foodie destination, so word is definitely getting around,” says Emma. “It’s like a big family and we use the local producers, like Roost’s coffee and Florian with his macarons.”
Just a few short steps across the courtyard is Malton Brewery, set up by Howard Kinder. This fledgling one-man nano brewery taps into the town’s brewing heritage. “We’re on the river where the original breweries would have been,” he says. “The last one stopped around 1961, so it’s more than 50 years since beer’s been brewed here next to the River Derwent.”
He produces up to 400 litres a week. “We brew by hand, bottle by hand and label by hand,” he explains. “We try and keep everything as local as possible. The labels are printed down the road and the used malt goes to one of the local racehorse trainers for his cattle.”
It was happenstance that brought him to Malton when his son, Harry, a jockey, moved to the town. “We visited him one weekend and that was it, three months later we were living here,” says Howard.
“I work in a little racing yard in the morning and then I’m straight down here brewing in the afternoon,” he says. “On the first day I opened I put a little board up and people started wandering down and by the first afternoon I’d sold £30 worth of beer.”
It could be argued that Malton has become something of a blueprint of how to be a successful market town. It’s featured on the Best Places to Live guide compiled by The Sunday Times and has seen some of the biggest increases in house prices in the county. It’s not all been plain sailing, though. Malton is a traditional farming town and there are some people who feel it is losing its identity.
There are concerns, too, about the future home of the livestock market, once the lifeblood of the town, with plans for a multi-million pound scheme to build a new out-of-town market still to be finalised.
Tom Naylor-Leyland agrees there is more work to be done but feels Malton is in a better place than a decade ago. “The town could still be busier, but I’d say people are optimistic now. The feeling ten years ago was that the town was going downhill, the shops were closing and young people were leaving. This is still a traditional market town, but hopefully it’s one that actually has a vibrant and welcoming feel.
“Ten years ago no one was really listening, because we didn’t have much of a story, what’s exciting now is we have got something, hopefully, to say, and people are listening to us.”
Malton Food Lovers Festival - May 25 & 26.