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A Magazine for Sheffield

The Mowbray: Interview with Sally Hubbard

2020 has been a devastating year for the events and dining industries, but perseverance and creativity have seen The Mowbray weather the storm and live to tell the tale.

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Brad Mathews Photography.

Sally Hubbard is House Owner of The Mowbray and The Chimney House, two beautiful events and dining spaces located in Neepsend. We chatted to Sally to find out how she and her team have used the pandemic as an opportunity for experimentation and innovation.

It's been quite a ride for independent businesses in the last few months. How has The Mowbray been dealing with the challenges brought by the pandemic?

It's been a really bumpy ride, that's for sure. Not being able to host events has been incredibly challenging for us so we've had to diversify our business at both The Chimney House and The Mowbray.

We've been working on a day by day / week by week / month by month basis in accordance with government guidance to move our daily bookings to new dates, and also reassuring and helping our guests in order to make this time as stress-free as we can for them, all while trying to keep afloat!

We sidestepped the challenge of not seeing our guests face to face by hosting a lot of video calls. All of our lifestyle events are celebrations, milestones and anniversaries, so we usually get to know our guests well, and since we've been spending more time on calls and video calls we've got to know everyone really well. We've also been working with our business community to make sure their events, conferences, away days and meetings can go ahead in the future.

Another challenge was keeping momentum in the system when it comes to events, in the face of such uncertainty. More recently we've started to open up for appointment only viewings, so we've at last been able to spend some socially distanced time with guests of the future.

One of the biggest challenges was to make sure we stayed at the forefront of people's minds with good energy, positivity and momentum, so we created The Mowbray at Home via our online shop and worked to get The Mowbray Cafe set up. We're also rolling out a series of Supper and Lunch Clubs which are small in size, Covid-secure and have been really popular.

Now we're able to open at a limited capacity, the challenge has been to present what events we can do in line with Covid guidance. We are incredibly fortunate that The Mowbray is a large, airy, well-ventilated venue with lots of floor space, meaning we can space our tables and guests with maximum comfort and follow government-issued Covid-19 procedure diligently. We've been able to use The Chimney House for small, intimate events, and we’re also hosting daily meetings for small teams.

We are developing The Mowbray into a restaurant / diner-style experience for the times we can't open as an events space, with 'cook to order' menus. It's really different to how we usually do things but we trialled it through 'Eat Out to Help Out' in August and feel it's a great way for us to navigate the path ahead.

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The Mowbray.

Department Two Photography.

With the easing of lockdown, you've been able to open The Mowbray Cafe Hatch. Where can people find it and what treats await them there?

The Mowbray Cafe is a pop-up in Sellers Wheel on Arundel Street, in the front of Laundry. We have a gorgeous cafe interior designed by 93ft in the original part of the building for customers to take a seat and relax, and a handy hatch on street level for take-out. We're serving amazing coffee thanks to our friends at Dark Woods and top tea brews from Teapigs, divine hot chocs and some of our favourite wellness sips from Jarr Kombucha and special edition brews of Mowbray Iced Tea.

We're serving up Icy Pud Pots, a cross between a pudding and an ice cream made from Our Cow Molly ice cream. The Mowbray Kitchen has made all of the extras. The salted caramel sauce on the Caramel & Brownie is sublime, as is the brownie, and the sponge for the Tiramisu soaked in Dark Woods espresso is something else.

The Mowbray Kitchen is also making limited-edition runs of 'straight out of the oven' tarts, quiches, cakes and cookies to supplement our daily range of fresh sandwiches and bakes, so there's always something new to try.

We're just about to start the search for a partner for The Cafe - a really great opportunity for a barista who is passionate about coffee, cafe culture and brand building to come and join us on our journey.

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Ellie Grace Photography.

You've also been cooking up a storm with The Mowbray at Home. Tell us more about these creative feasts.

Through lockdown, when we couldn't open for events and restaurants had closed, we started our collection service, The Mowbray at Home. It was all about bringing creative feasting to the home that was reflective of what we'd serve at The Mowbray and The Chimney House, with food that explores fresh seasonality, designed and made by our chefs to help raise the spirits.

Through lockdown we cooked up a weekly changing menu, comprising a simple-to-prepare feast matched with a vegetarian or vegan partner, the idea being that you’d have a chef-made meal on your table in 20-30 minutes. The perfect treat, or simply great eating when you fancy it.

We also created a small collection of Mowbray ready-to-pour cocktails which suit the season and the occasion, alongside some of our favourite wines from The Mowbray wine cabinet. The Mowbray Marmalade Margarita was a winner every week.

Now that the restaurants are open again we've pressed pause on this, but at the time it was a great way to get The Mowbray food out to people, stay in touch, and really importantly it gave guests who have booked events with us for the future the chance to taste our food and stay connected to us. We loved doing it.

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Ellie Grace Photography.

People are gradually starting to look ahead and think about rescheduling postponed events. What plans are in motion for The Mowbray to begin hosting weddings and celebrations again?

They are, and it's wonderful. We are taking it step by step, in line with government guidelines, so we'll continue to do so. We have started to host very small wedding ceremonies at The Chimney House again and very small celebrations at The Mowbray. We're focusing 100% on presenting Covid-secure environments with the safety of our teams and guests top of the list, so for now we'll be taking things slow and making sure the events we can host are as wonderful as ever.

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Brad Mathews Photography.

And finally, what's on the horizon for The Mowbray?

We're going to continue making use of our new online shop and have plans around that. We're also going to develop our roof terrace when we're able. Of course we're taking bookings for weddings, private dining, meetings and conferences well into 2023, so we'll continue to do so, and matching that with innovation and beautiful food from The Mowbray Kitchen for The Chimney House, The Mowbray and The Mowbray Cafe.

We're also creating a new role for a hospitality manager to join us across all 3 sites and to help us develop new concepts including more bar and restaurant style experiences at The Mowbray - which is a great chance for the right person to join our team and get involved straight away with some exciting plans!

For now though, we're full of positivity to be able to plan our own house events - from Supper Clubs and bar nights to Sunday roasts, we're happy to have weathered Covid together as a team and are fortunate to have spaces that can work alongside Covid procedure in some capacity. We're looking forward to recruiting and meeting future members of our team and remain optimistic for the future.

by Felicity Jackson (she/her)

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