The recently revamped Cafe 164 has been serving speciality coffee, soup, sandwiches and cake to the people of Leeds since 2011, sharing its premises with The Gallery, an independent art and events space which exhibits work from local, national and international artists. I popped down to Munro House last Friday afternoon, post-lunchtime rush, to chat with Leeds born and bred owner Ellie Andrews, to find out a bit more about the lady herself and what drives one of Leeds’ most popular cafes and arts venues.
Theatre, Arts and Baking
Ellie’s enthusiasm and pride for her business is evident from the moment we sat down over a flat white coffee. The 34 year old filled me in on her path to ending up as co-owner of Café 164 and the Gallery alongside her husband.
“After studying theatre design at St. Martin’s College London, where I also met my now husband, I worked for a number of years as a freelance Theatre Designer in London. Due to the rising living costs of living there and unsure of my next steps, I took up my Dad’s offer off moving back up to Leeds to work in his bakery. Leeds had changed immensely as a city since I had been living away and it was refreshing to return home.”
Some of Leeds Living’s readers may be familiar with Ellie’s Dad’s 164 Bakery, situated opposite the Parkinson University building. The bakery, formerly ‘the Best Kebab House in the North’ accordingly to the Guardian, was established in 1994 and has been popular ever since.
“I started in an entry level role at Dad’s bakery, serving customers and cleaning tables, before progressing to learning all aspects of running a bakery and a profitable business. Outside of work I continued to maintain my active interests in theatre and illustration.”
The Opening of Café 164 in 2011
After a few years working at the bakery, Ellie and her husband were ready to set up on their own. Munro House, built originally as a Victorian textile mill, had been empty for a few years prior to being taken over. With its high ceilings and 2000 square feet, it was a much larger space then they first anticipated renting, but the extra space came in perfectly.
“The large area was daunting at first, but having this immense space made it possible to combine my two passions; baking and the arts.”
Ellie took what she learnt at her Dad’s bakery and put it into practice at Café 164, whilst promoting the art space for exhibitions and events. The majority of the food served is prepared and made in the on-site bakery, using a number of local suppliers for their fresh produce. Sandwiches are made with freshly baked ciabatta and focaccia bread with various filings. Homemade hearty soups and salads are also available for those wanting a lighter lunch. A selection of vegan food is now on offer, using a reputable vegan supplier. As for desserts, there is a vast choice of cakes, from brownies and muffins to gateaux and flapjacks.
Speciality espresso-based coffees are served using a selection of guest blends on rotation, currently from local and independent roasters in the Northern regions of the UK. Organic milk is always used, with soya and almond milk options available too.
The Gallery Events & Exhibitions
Art exhibitions at the Gallery rotate on a monthly basis, with artists invited to apply to exhibit their work via their website.
“Managing artists’ expectations over the years has been challenging”, Ellie is not afraid to admit. “It’s not your usual exhibit space, with the Gallery being nestled in the middle of a busy coffee shop and bakery. People wanting to buy a coffee and a slice of cake aren’t necessarily looking to purchase art as well.” As the Gallery’s reputation is growing, this is inevitably changing.
Past events at the Gallery have included A Woman’s Place at Leeds Indie Food festival 2016, a celebration of the history of women and food, and Leeds’ first ever edible art exhibition in 2015. London-based the Tattooed Bakers were challenged to re-create, in cake, four pieces of Contemporary Art which were exhibited for one day before being sliced and devoured!
Alongside the Gallery’s programme of events and exhibitions, the space is also available to hire. Events have included wedding receptions, gigs, theatre performances, cinema screenings, pop-up restaurants and product launches.
Ellie revealed that the contribution to this year’s Leeds Indie Food Festival in May will be bread-focused.
Trustee of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis (NRA) Charity
At just the age of 30 years old, Ellie was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Although managing to live with the disease and running her own business, flare-ups of pain and fatigue, amongst other side effects, are inevitable. Stress is a well-known factor for flare-ups of the disease, and running a business I imagine must cause additional stress to the body. However, Ellie seems to take it all in her stride, not wanting the disease to define her.
On the back of her diagnosis, Ellie became a Trustee of the NRA Charity 3 years ago. This has helped her to form a support network of other RA sufferers across the UK.
And what’s in store for the future at Café 164?
Ellie has a vision of the future for her business, although she is the first to admit that it has taken her these past seven years to release what the vision is:
“I want us to have the title of the best sandwiches in Leeds” beamed Ellie. “and I want this to be the place where people can come to escape from the world, whilst embracing a community-based feel around our freshly baked produce.”
“Our customer feedback is what drives us to make changes to the venue. We need to continue to do so going forward, whilst keeping our identity and ethos. It’s important to develop ideas around how to uphold our City’s story and history through art, whilst continuing to adapt culturally.”
After three years of visiting Café 164 since moving to Leeds, I believe their sandwiches are already up there with the best. The ciabatta and focaccia bread sandwiches are simply delicious. Expect fillings such as Pesto Chicken, Goats Cheese with Caramelised Onions and Walnuts; and Sweet Potato, Hummus and Mediterranean Vegetables.
The place, although slightly out of the main Leeds City Centre in the Quarry Hill area, certainly has no problem attracting customers. The café is always bustling with professionals from local offices such as Quarry House and BBC Radio Leeds, and students from the nearby Leeds College of music and Northern Ballet.
I’m sure with Ellie’s drive and passion, whilst dealing head-on with what life throws at her, that her vision is not too far away from being realised. It’s exciting to see what she has in store next for the good people of Leeds.
Check out https://cafe164.com for updates on all future events, exhibitions and contact details for hiring out the venue, and outside catering services.
Photographs by Cafe 164 and The Gallery; Cath Kane.
Café 164 and the Gallery
Monday to Friday 8am – 6pm
Saturday 10am – 5pm
*Closed on Sundays
Cath is a contributor for Leeds Living covering events all across the City, on topics such as eat/drink, retail therapy, music/dance and culture.