Taking up the rooms of an old village pub in Llanarthne, Wright's Food Emporium transports a little slice of New York deli-culture to a quiet corner of Carmarthenshire.
Founded by renowned food writer and restauranteur Simon Wright and his son Joel, the story of how Wright's came about is a tale of synchronicity. Coming up with the idea while the pair were discovering the cafes and restaurants of Brooklyn, upon their return they discovered that the Golden Grove Arms, one of Simon's first eateries had recently come on the market. Seizing the opportunity, they moved swiftly and the Independent Food Emporium was born.
Up and running for six years now, Wright's has become a hugely popular local café. With the family living in the rooms above the pub, they've created a unique home business that is wedded to the idea of simple ingredients sourced from the best local and international suppliers; serving up sandwiches, salads and antipasto platters washed down with craft beers and small-estate organic wines. With growing demand and a great, picturesque location, the Wright's found that more and more of their visitors were asking to stay. Consequently, the family has recently added catered and non-catered accommodation to their business, turning their busy restaurant into one of South Wales most desirable B&Bs.
We caught up with Joel recently to chat about the Food Emporium, meet their cat Castro and find out the family's plans for the future.
Why did you decide to set up a restaurant/guesthouse?
We started in a smaller location about ten minutes away, wanting to start a small shop with a café offering. Something very relaxed, simple but of high quality, influenced by the places we'd been to in Brooklyn recently (which was around 2011.) The accommodation is a natural extension of what we have set up at the new place. It's an old inn, the rooms were there anyway. We've put in a self-catering accommodation on one side of the building, which has a very similar vibe to what we do in the shop. Simple, quality and no fuss. We also have a cottage next door to the building.
Why did you choose to set up in an old pub near Carmarthen?
It was the only building available! The Golden Grove had been on the market for around 4 years and Brains, the pub chain, owned it. Unfortunately, they failed to get it going with a tenancy and hadn't found any buyers either. They had recently got permission to develop the plot into housing, but fortunately we got there just before that happened. We were forced to move from a smaller location, but having a year and a half there before moving meant when we came here, we could really think about what the place had become and how we could set the new place up to reflect that.
What was the vision behind Wright's Independent Food Emporium?
It really happened quite organically. The intention at the start was to have a shop with a small café offering, the café really took off and became more of a focus. We definitely wanted to have a very high quality food offering that was accessible to even more people than the restaurants we'd been involved in before. Every item on the menu has just as much thought put into it as we would put into a restaurant dish, including the sandwiches like the Rarebit or the Cubano that we have become famous for. We really wanted to get rid of any fuss and focus on the important things - quality of product, good service, and knowledge. We wanted to make somewhere we would want to go to.
You seem to be trying to build a real community feel at Wright's - how have you gone about getting the vibe just right?
We just fill the place with books, music and furniture we like and hope other people will like it too. We encourage the staff to be friendly and relaxed and that seems to rub off on the customers.
What's been the biggest challenge about setting up Wright's?
Perhaps just the fact that if you use premium ingredients it's hard to charge the prices you need to. We're extremely busy, but to turn that into profit is increasingly difficult in this industry.
Why did you decide to add accommodation to the Wright's package?
It was the obvious step with the building we had, to use it to its full capacity. We also had a lot of people asking about staying, so it just made sense.
How has adding rooms changed your business?
It's pretty new still so I wouldn't say there has been a massive change yet, but the hope is we will get people coming who was already interested in this place and help put the place on the map.
You go to great pains to source ingredients and produce - how do you go about finding new suppliers? Where do you store your produce?
We're always on the lookout for exciting new producers, especially in Wales. Mostly it comes from research or seeing things on our travels. I found out about our favourite cider producer, Skyborry in Powys, in London weirdly, while talking to one of our wine importers. We are quite picky about what we sell. Quality is first, if we can buy stuff locally we will - all our fresh meat is local. But we won't just take a product because it's made locally, if we don't feel the quality is there. We also try to have products that aren't everywhere already.
You also sell your own brands of catsup - do you make it at Wright's?
We produce the chilli catsup here and the tomato catsup is produced by our friends who have a unit ten minutes away to our recipe, simply because of the quantity we sell now and that we have started to wholesale it.
What's the major advantages/disadvantages of working from home?
Living upstairs, the commute is sweet. But I guess it's difficult to switch off.
How do you best make use of your space?
We just tried to look at the building and visualise how it would work. Things change when you put them in place and it always evolves. We're lucky to have a building with real character that we didn't have to do too much to, at least aesthetically.
"Our cat Castro is pretty iconic to our brand and a constant inspiration."
What's the most important item you own? How vital is it to your work?
Our cat Castro is pretty iconic to our brand and a constant inspiration. But I don't really feel like we own him, he probably owns us.
What's been the most rewarding thing about starting Wright's?
Probably the fact that we are fairly uncompromising in how we approach the menu and what we stock. We don't do things because we think they will sell well or that the customer wants it. The menu is written because we think everything is delicious.
What does the future look like? Are you looking to add any other strands to your business?
We are currently looking to import some wine directly. We are already wholesaling some wine around Wales. We are also finalising our online shop.
Is there one piece of equipment that would really make your life easier?
A better internet connection!