FEATURE: Old School Cafe serves nostalgic schoolday meals...
Cheese flan, potato croquettes and cornflake tarts.
With delights like this on the menu, anybody setting foot into The Old School Cafe could be forgiven for thinking they’d travelled back to their school dining halls of their youth.
And that’s exactly the idea. Blackboards, a water cooler and a big ‘break time’ bell complete the look of the brand new community cafe which is housed within the Old Sharrow Lane Junior School - in the very hall where millions of meals were served to thousands of kids over several decades. Among those kids was Liz O’Neill, one of the ladies behind this new venture.
“This is my old primary school, so I have a lot of affection for it,” smiles Liz, who left Sharrow Lane Primary School almost 40 years ago.
“I remember the school well and it’s wonderful to be back here serving the food we all remember so well, there’s a great nostalgic feeling to the place.
“We’ve had plenty of former pupils and members of staff through the door already, curious to see what we’ve done with the room and how it all looks now.
“I’ve even reconnected with a few of my old school friends, people I haven’t seen for years and years!”
And Liz’s business partner, Kate Stevenson, is no stranger to the school canteen either, after years working as a school dinner lady in Sheffield.
“I was school cook for ten years at Valley Park Primary,” says Kate.
“I’ve spent years cooking with these recipes and, trust me, you just can’t buy this stuff anywhere. We’ve had people come in who are so excited to see a real cheese flan or a shortbread pinwheel! People really seem to be embracing the theme and enjoying escaping back to their youth for an hour with some good old fashioned food.”
And Kate says she and Liz are keen to keep growing their nostalgic menu and have been asking customers to recall their favourite school dishes.
“People have come up with all kinds of dishes we’d forgotten so it’s great to pick their brains and see what we could try next,” says the 46-year-old.
“The Scotch Tart has been another big hit and is one of my personal favourites. I find it tricky to make, but gorgeous to eat.
“I have a big family, including four grandchildren, so luckily I’m never short of taste testers when I’m experimenting and I’m forever getting requests to bring home a piece of this or a slice of that!”
Liz and Kate met when they both began working in the same cafe a few years ago and say they’d been thinking about going into business together for a while, when the dining hall of the Old Sharrow Lane Junior School - which now houses offices - became available.
“I asked Kate if we should go and have a look and we got so excited after seeing it that we started buying things immediately,” laugh Liz, aged 48
“A month later, we had everything we needed and couldn’t wait to get started. Obviously it’s early days for us - we opened on January 11 - but we’re feeling positive, we have a really good feeling about this.”
And as well as staying true to their school days theme, Liz and Kate are also determined to stay true to their community, doing as much of their food shopping as possible in local, independent shops.
“Our coffee is from Cafeology, in Heeley,” says Liz.
“Our bread is from Turners in Nether Edge and we use different local butchers. Obviously we’re a new business and we need to keep costs down, but we do our very best to shop locally.”
Kate adds: “It’s all fresh ingredients and everything is homemade on site.
“We’ve even been experimenting with food for our vegan and gluten-free customers and I made my first vegan chocolate cake the other day. I kept thinking it couldn’t possibly work without eggs and when it was done it was absolutely gorgeous, it was so light!”
The main problem the new business is facing is that many people simply don’t know it’s there.
“We’re a little off the beaten track,” says Kate.
“We’re in the school’s old dining hall, so you won’t stumble upon us unless you come looking. We’ve done our best with signage and just hope enough people start to talk about us that word of mouth spreads and people come out to see us.”
And the cafe is preparing to take part in its first big community event this weekend, when it will open its doors for the Sharrow Spring Market, which will be held in the Old School and its grounds this Saturday, from 12pm-4pm.
“We’re hoping the Lord Mayor will stop by for a piece of flan,” grins Kate.