In conversation with Jo Myers

The Greedy Pig, for many a Leeds favourite for the most important meal of the day, was one of the first places I visited following my move to Leeds over three years ago.

I met Jo on this initial visit and she came across as a friendly, down-to-earth lady, and her passion for her food was obvious. Numerous subsequent visits were made, The Greedy Pig often being a place I would take guests staying with me, for those lazy weekend breakfasts. It was their spicy homemade Merguez Sausage that was one of the reasons that kept me going back, and I’m not ashamed to admit it!

It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to interview Jo for Leeds Living to get the low-down on the recent changes at The Greedy Pig, and its alter ego The Swine that Dines. I was also intrigued to delve into the history of the Pig, to see what still drives this successful local businesswoman, and to find out what the good people of Leeds can expect to see in the future.

The Birth of the Pig

I was interested in finding out how The Greedy Pig came to be, so we started there.

Jo explained the reasoning behind Jo and her other half, Stu, deciding to go into business together in the first place.

“There were two main reasons: firstly, to see more of each other, and secondly because of the frustrations that we felt in our careers at the time. Stu was an experienced chef who had worked at various high end restaurants in Leeds, including Kendal’s Bistro and Harvey Nics, whilst I worked for many years in supported living services with people with learning disabilities. Long hours and varying shift patterns meant that the precious time we managed to spend together was focused around food and enjoying meals out. We were regulars at The Reliance on North Street, which is how we became familiar with the area, and it was just a few doors down from the Pig.”

A basic greasy spoon since 1983, the Pig had had numerous owners prior to it being purchased by Jo and Stu. As for its brilliant name? Well, this was adopted when the couple took over because at the time they couldn’t afford to change the sign!

It was six years ago when the Pig was bought, prior to the Leeds independent food scene taking off to where it is today. In addition to The Reliance, there were a few now well-known establishments finding their feet including North Bar and Bottega Milanese.

Despite buying an existing business, Jo admitted that they still had to build the business from scratch.  The clientele from the previous greasy spoon, who were after a quick cheap bacon butty, were a different set from the one that would be interested in Jo and Stu’s new menu and vision for the place.  Although the name was the same, the food certainly wasn’t.

The Introduction of The Swine

Move three years on and the Pig was thriving. Simultaneously the “pop-up and supper club” scene in Leeds started to blossom, and the couple decided to get involved to channel their creative outlet. “As exciting as it initially seemed at the time”, quipped Jo, “after hosting a few pops-ups in various locations in the City, the hassle of mobile catering, lugging our equipment around and such like, was taking its toll on us, in addition to the running of the Pig.  It was clear that people were looking for more intimate, laid-back venues to eat at, and it was then that we decided us use our own premises in the evenings to host supper clubs.”   The Swine that Dines was born.

The Swine focused on a different style of dining from the Pig. On Thursday to Saturday nights, small menus of creative and innovative dishes are developed, and are designed to share. With a seasonal menu changing every month, the aim is to always offer something a little bit different. As well as the published menu, specials are included each evening, reflecting the availability of local produce.

The menu descriptions are simple, naming just the key ingredients and so maintaining an element of surprise for the customer. An example course from their current menu is: Cucumber, Sweet Potato, Miso, Ginger. Sustainability is also high on their priorities, with Stu using higher welfare meat and using as much of an animal as possible. On their “nose to tail” evenings, they use their experience and knowledge of food and take the less used cuts of meat to create exciting and unique dishes. Meals for two are generally under £50.

Vegetarian food is also important to the Swine. On the first weekend of the month, a completely new vegetarian menu is developed. These nights have become known as #RootsToShoots and are popular with both vegetarian customers and those who just appreciate good cooking.

And it’s not just Stu involved in developing the menus at the Swine: Jo is in charge of desserts, from tarts, ice creams and pies to her favourite macarons. You can give her a follow on Instagram via @thesweetchestnut.

As with the Pig, the Swine followed suit and soon gained a reputation across Leeds and beyond. In March 2018, they grabbed the Best British Restaurant at Leeds Oliver Awards 2018, where they were in direct competition with other Leeds’ favourites such as Home and Shears Yard.

The Pig vs The Swine

Jo had this to say about the choice and the decision they ultimately had to make between the two:

“It was like deciding on who is your favourite child!” Jo humorously stated, “But the time felt right for us to make that decision. Business at both the Pig and the Swine were booming, but the downside of this was the long hours running two businesses. The passion that we’ve always had for being creative and experimenting with new dishes was still very much there and this helped make our choice. We are so proud of the Pig and what it achieved from starting off as simply ‘one man and his griddle’!”

What does the future Swine have in store?

The Pig served its last breakfast at the end of May 2018, on what must have been an emotional day for Jo, Stu, their staff and all its loyal customers over the years.   

“It’s understandable that people were disappointed upon hearing that the Pig was closing, but we are so happy and excited about the future.”

There are no airs and graces about Jo; she is straight talking and knows what is most important to the Swine, food and people. Getting to know her customers is equally as important to her as the food, declaring that she can “talk about food all day”. That makes two of us then!  She does acknowledge that some customers prefer to be left to enjoy their meal, if a quiet meal is what they are after.  A laid back, unpretentious atmosphere is what the Swine is driving to create, using good quality locally sourced food, not pretending to be something they are not.

Jo appreciates those customers who go out of their way to return to the Swine and adds “Some of our regulars with young children, on the rare occasions that they can find a babysitter, choose us to come back to for a meal. They could go anywhere in Leeds but they don’t. It’s loyalty like this that means so much to us.”

Interviewing Jo this evening has got me so excited to try the Swine’s new menu that I’m heading down for lunch at the weekend. In the meantime, our very own Stan Graham was down there recently do one of his Let’s do Lunch reviews. See what he had to say at leedsliving.co.uk/food-drink/the-swine-that-dines

As much as I loved eating at The Greedy Pig, I believe that the right “child” was chosen. The Pig is all grown up and fiercely independent, whilst the Swine can be developed further and nurtured through Jo and Stu’s creativity; their passion for food and feeding the people of Leeds! Although like all children, don’t completely rule out a return home for the Pig in the future, in a pop-up sense. I’ll be first in the queue to grab a Merguez Sausage.

For more information on the Swine that Dines, including menus, location etc. visit their website. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Wednesdays through to Saturdays, with their usual 7-course taster menu in the evenings and lighter options for lunch. The venue is not licensed.  However, they are more than happy to provide you with drinking vessels for your own choice of beverage. Booking is essential in the evenings.

With the warmth, quality and care which guides the running of The Swine That Dines, is it any wonder that Jo and Stu have an increasingly loyal fan base.

The pig is dead; long live the swine.

Cath is a contributor for Leeds Living covering events all across the City, on topics such as eat/drink, music and culture.  She is also food and travel blogger –  The Messy Cook.  Look out for her local supper clubs and blogs on recipes and travel via https://messycook79.com/

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