• Foodie Friday backlash as Steve Pilling wins contract for Stockport’s Produce Hall

Foodie Friday backlash as Steve Pilling wins contract for Stockport’s Produce Hall

22 November 2017 by Neil Sowerby

THE battle for Stockport’s historic Produce Hall has been won by veteran hospitality  entrepreneur Steve Pilling, leaving rivals for the contract to it into a Mackie Mayor style street food hall fuming.

Organisers of the town’s monthly Foodie Friday event, a key mover in the regeneration of the Market Place area, were also among the three shortlisted bidders considered by the council, attracting more than 4,000 signatures of support. 

After missing out they issued a fierce attack on Stockport Council, culminating in: “They have rejected the chance to support the development of our delivery partners, who are all Stockport based independent food and drink traders, in favour of Steve Pilling, an individual businessman from outside the town centre who wants to capitalise on all the success that we have achieved through the delivery of Foodie Friday.”

Read Foodie Friday organiser Ro Barratt's full  statement here

It all cuts no ice with experienced restaurateur Pilling, who has lived in Stockport for 25 years. He told ToM: “We were asked to deliver a project plan, were chosen and we will carry it out with all the professionalism we have consistently shown since back in 1995 when we kicked off selling roast beef sandwiches in the Atheneum and the Albert Memorial Hall.”

He has come a long way since that era’s equivalent of street food, creating the Chop Houses brand, then a brace of fine dining Damson restaurants, more recently two Dockyard pubs and the Gasworks brewpub in First Street. Recent pub revamp projects include the Moortop in Heaton Moor and, in conjunction with Angus Cameron Pride, Didsbury’s Dog and Partridge and the Stonemason’s Arms in Timperley. 

On the original Damson site on Heaton Moor Road he has gone more casual with tapas joint La Cantina and Roost, specialising in rotisserie chicken and wood-fired pizzas.

So what can we expect in the Produce Hall food hub, which he hopes to open in summer 2018 after minor modifications to the Grade II listed building opposite Stockport Market Hall?

“Roast chicken and wood-fired pizza, definitely, a fish pintxos counter too with lovely Spanish whites, our own beers plus a range of guest ales, quality coffee, live music, too” says Steve. “But alongside our own stuff we’ll have rotating pop-ups with other food and drink operators, while the neighbouring Blackshaws Cafe will be a casual dining space in its own right.

“The Market Place is glorious and what is happening there is long overdue. and it’s a long time overdue what’s happening. Hopefully it will attract many other operators. I’m very flattered to have been chosen to help Stockport’s regeneration.”

So is it a case of following the trend for food halls like Mackie Mayor and Altrincham Market? “Of course, we want to transpose parts of that trend but with a different price structure – one suiting the people of Stockport. It is also well suited to us transferring lots of our community activities there.”

Social media is stoking up hostility towards the project, but the arrival of Pilling confirms the Old Town’s growing status as a foodie destination in the wake of Where The Light Gets In and The Allotment, both winners in the 2017 Manchester Food and Drink Awards, Best Newcomer and Best Chef/Vegetarian Restaurant, respectively. (Foodie Fridays won Best Pop-up, Event or Project in 2016).

The next Foodie Friday takes place on Friday, November 24, from 6pm-9pm, around the Market Place and inside the Market Hall.