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The kitchen on the cobbles

Holly Knight talks to Simon Long, co-founder of Shambles Kitchen, about juice dieting, the York food scene, and educating the nation

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York has always been a world renowned tourist attraction, famous for its narrow cobbled streets, jaunty buildings and picturesque appearance. However, the city's architecture is not the only reason that York has become a tourist hotspot. People visit York from far and wide in search of good food, whether it's from the various markets or the masses of quirky independently owned shops that the city has to offer.

PhotoCredit:Simon Long
PhotoCredit:Simon Long

Shambles Kitchen is one such shop that competes for the attention of the tourists that flock to York all year round. Established five years ago by partners Simon Long and Phil Benson, it is located on York's most famous street, The Shambles.

"We started out selling smoothies as a smoothie bar and that was five years ago, and about a year ago we rebranded to 'The Shambles Kitchen' off the back of the success of the food that we were selling."

The Kitchen seeks to provide a healthy alternative to the fast food that has become a big part of British culture. Simon was inspired to promote healthy eating after he was introduced to the concept of smoothie bars whilst studying for his degree in America. "We took on the shop on The Shambles and we started to sell a lot more food, especially during the winter months, so we've moved slightly away from the smoothie focus to food here, which is why we are now called Shambles Kitchen."

Despite this, they have not abandoned their initial inspiration; Phil has decided to stay on the smoothie route, setting up smoothie bars in schools. "The smoothie direction started going more into education so we set up smoothie bars in schools. The target market for smoothies is quite young so it's the universities and schools that are the perfect places to sell those products."

The business will shortly branch out into further education, with a smoothie bar being set up on the York St. John campus which will be run and managed by students.

"I've just started lecturing at York Saint John University, so we're going to set up a smoothie bar on campus in January. From the first term, from now until Christmas, I'll be teaching about business planning and then a select group of students will be chosen that will then run the bar from January."

The success that the business has received in York has proved extremely inspiring to both Simon and Phil, who hope to expand the business all over the country.

"I'd like to expand to a bigger premises to be able to have more people sitting down and it would be good to have a chain of those, but maintain our standards and principles. In the education business we now have 17 bars in schools, so the goal for that is to have a number of school bars within cities around the country. Within those cities, these schools would compete with each other because we set them up as businesses where the students actually run the business."

He continues, "We'd love to see that grow and form a network of shared learning. What's more, we'll be passing on our own expertise as well as schools sharing amongst themselves."

In order to maintain the great taste and feedback that the business get from their food, the menu in the Kitchen is refreshingly simple, with only a few options consisting of pulled pork, soup, wraps, juices and smoothies. "The more complicated the menu is, the more likely it is that you're going to cut corners and buy in a lot of your ingredients. People used to believe that choice was a good thing, but I think that more and more people are coming round to the idea that you're better off having fewer, better choices."

Pulled pork has become very trendy within the food industry and is the Shambles Kitchen's bestseller by far, with customers raving about its great taste.

"We cook it overnight on a very low heat and it sells out pretty much every day. We don't leave it on a hot temperature for very long because it dries out. We make sure that with the sandwiches that we sell, the meat is really moist and the bread is warm and soft, so it's a really nice, juicy sandwich. Consequently, we sell a lot of them."

Another popular option at Shambles Kitchen is the smoothie and juice diet option that is offered. Simon feels that juice-dieting is different from other extreme diets, and rather than being harmful to your body, can actually bring about really positive changes to your lifestyle.

"Dieting suggests that you're starving yourself. But the advantage of juicing is that you can consume more fruit and vegetables than you could eat your way through, so it's very heavily vegetable and mineral based. With the repairing qualities of these substances, we've seen some incredible results from people. People that have changed their diet as a result."

Speaking about some of his past clients, Simon explains, "It beats caffeine cravings. We've had chocoholics that couldn't stand the sight of chocolate after they'd finished. I've done it four times and I don't do it to lose weight, it clears your head, you sleep really well, it boosts your energy, it's packed with iron because all the vitamins and minerals go into the juice. Unlike taking a multi vitamin, your body actually processes it and stores those vitamins and minerals. What you find with multi vitamins is that they just pass through your body and they're not as good and effective."

Rather than being simply a diet, juicing is a detox that Simon would recommend to anyone, even students. "I'm not someone that would advocate people to diet, but it's a real line in the sand that enables you to maintain good habits after you finish the detox." M

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