Discovering another food gem in Kirkgate Market never fails to get my pulse racing. Summer 2016 saw the opening of the indoor food court area, where some of Leeds’ now-favourite street food vendors first made an appearance.
Since then though, new food vendors have been few and far between, despite the near-empty old butcher’s row, and a scattering of other vacant units throughout the markets.
OWT, which opened its doors at the end of November 2018, is owned by Esther and James, who met by chance at a festival in Esther’s native France a few years back. “I was a few weeks off moving to Manchester to study.” Esther recalls. “There was an obvious connection between us and similar interests, with my background in hospitality and James as a chef. We haven’t looked back since.”
After moving to Leeds to study, James learnt his chef trade at some of the City’s popular establishments, such as LS6 Café in Headingley and The Brunswick on North Street. But it was when the couple volunteered at The Real Junk Food Project that they realised that they could more than survive working together, and the idea of setting up a food business was born.
So, why Kirkgate Market? “We were inspired by our love of the amazing food markets in the South of France;” James beamed. “the local, community spirit that was there, and the quality of local produce that was being exchanged between traders. Leeds has one of the biggest indoor markets in Europe, so we thought why not here?”
The name is clever. “OWT” as most of you I’m sure will know, is a Northern slang word for “anything”, and this is exactly what they are about. Expect an ever-changing weekly menu based around what seasonal produce is available in the markets. Their dishes won’t necessarily be local though. With the diversity of the market, literally anything could be on the menu. However, their ethos is strong – all ingredients will be straight from the markets. Having the freedom to create whatever menu you want on a weekly basis is exciting from both a customer’s perspective, and of course for Esther and James.
Main dishes served since opening, ranging from £3.00 to £6.50 in price, have included Spiced Yoghurt Chicken, Roasted Pepper Quiche and Pan-fried Courgette and Hummus Bap. A vegan option is always on the menu. There is also an excellent selection of homemade sweet treats, with gluten-free options, and to finish it off, for every food purchase a free cup of coffee is thrown in. No need to panic if there is no room available inside OWT to eat your food; simply grab your meal to go and take a seat in the ample indoor food court just a few yards away.
As for what they want the future to look like, Esther enthusiastically tells me “I’d love for people to ask us where in the markets can they get certain ingredients to recreate a dish that they have just eaten from us. This will finish the trading cycle off and make us feel a real part of the community.”
The couple are clearly passionate about their business, Kirkgate Market and of course making good food from local produce. Despite going it alone, Esther and James are still involved in the Real Junk Food Project’s event catering branch. A community spirit and a passion for good food will hopefully see them become another indie success on the vibrant and burgeoning Leeds food scene.
Esther recites her mother’s response when telling her of their new business venture in Leeds: “I never thought my daughter would end up working as a market trader in Yorkshire.” Well, Esther’s mother, we are glad that she did!
OWT, Unit BS4b Row 1, Hall 1875, Kirkgate Market. Opening times: Monday-Saturday 10am-4pm.
Photographs (unless otherwise indicated) are by Warehouse 606 – Shaun Page – provided by OWT.