Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Boys From The Bird's Nest

People are always talking about the boys from the Birds Nest.  They’ve done great things for the market... We’re so lucky in our town to have them... Let’s hope they stay... They’re great guys... Have I met them yet..? More to the point, when am I going to interview them..?

The Birds Nest in question is a sprawling café with sinking sofas, rustic tables and benches and even an old upright piano, clustered beneath a web of branches and a mesh of twinkling fairy lights. Not what you’d have expected to find in Shrewsbury’s indoor market once upon a time, but very much a part of the contemporary market, slap bang in the middle of jewellery and bric-a-brac stalls, a children’s arts and activities outlet, racks of old clothes, a hairdresser’s and the best independent book shop this side of Much Wenlock [and that’s the nearest independent bookshop to Birmingham, which apparently doesn’t have a single one].

A few days ago, sitting in the Bird’s Nest’s sinking sofas, eating cake and drinking coffee, I decided to fix up an interview.  Could we put a date in the diary, I asked? What was wrong with now, co-owner Victor Deng replied.  We retreated from the main bustle of the café to what had been its original site - a cosy corner with a sofa, a coffee table, a couple of armchairs and walls hung with local art [all for sale].  This had been where they’d started out, Victor said. They’d had seating for twelve and now they could seat sixty.  They’d only been in the market for two and a half years, and were proud of how things had grown. ‘To begin with there were just the two of us working the café,’ Victor said, ‘and a weekend helper.  Now we have four full-time helpers, three part-timers and a Saturday girl.’

It’s hard to believe the Bird’s Nest hasn’t been here for years. It’s very much a part of the market’s life.  At any one time you’ll find everybody from students and young mums to families and the old market regulars. Some might have thought that its buzz and sparkiness would be at odds with market life, yet the two have fitted together like a hand and a glove. Where did the idea for the Bird’s Nest come from, I wanted to know.  And why here?

Victor said that he and co-owner, Aaron Brown, had been looking to start a business for quite a while.  They’d both worked in the food industry for other people and now wanted something of their own. They’d had their own cash to put in, no need to go to the bank for funding, and a cafe seemed a good idea. Aaron’s girlfriend came up with the Bird’s Nest concept, and it was whilst trawling the region for the right location that Victor and Aaron discovered Shrewsbury.

‘We both live in Birmingham,’ Victor said, ‘but we couldn’t afford Birmingham rents, so it was a matter of finding another location within commuting distance.  We looked all over, but knew as soon as we arrived in Shrewsbury that we’d found what we wanted.’

That was back in December 2010. Victor says they fell in love with Shrewsbury.  Now all they needed was to find a location for the sort of café they had in mind.  The market quickly presented itself to them as an ideal place. High Street rents were matchingly high, and the market seemed more exciting anyway. Its bustling environment was undergoing a time of change that made it open to the bohemian feel that Victor and Aaron wanted to create.  In one corner of the market in particular, old stalls were closing, new ones opening up.  Victor and Aaron set up the Bird’s Nest Cafe, and straight away people started coming in.  The word went out that there was a new coffee house in the market, and it was fun.  People came to take a look and stayed to eat. It wasn’t just coffee on offer, but good food too.

Everybody loves the Bird’s Nest’s food, which is made in house, brought in daily from their central kitchen in Birmingham.  And the cakes.  Don’t let’s forget the cakes, which come courtesy of Fabulous Joe Cakes in Birmingham and Cherry Bakewell in Wem.  My favourite is the beetroot and chocolate cake, and their pavlova is as pretty as anything you’ll ever see sitting on a plate.

 ‘But we couldn’t have done it without help,’ Victor said.  ‘Everybody got behind the idea that we wanted to create this homely, comfortable place. We were made so welcome and had so much support.  To begin with even our furniture was on loan, with price tags on it, courtesy of local shops.’

Shrewsbury’s indoor market is dotted with interesting traders and a diversity of businesses.  The building has a long history. Before the current market hall, built in the 1960s, was a Victorian one, but even before that there was a market on this site.  I can confidently say, however, that Victor Deng and Aaron Brown are the first Shrewsbury market traders to have held an Africa Day with live music, including a drumming workshop, African poetry and an African menu, which they served all week.

Shrewsbury Market is full of surprises. Victor told me that live music was always part of the plan. Africa Day was a huge success, and so have been the twice monthly Bird’s Nest Matinee Sessions that have also been set up, which include the spoken word and poetry too.  In addition, this year Victor and Aaron are planning to bring an African choir into the market.  An entire choir blasting it out in Shrewsbury Market – I can’t wait!  The event’s taking place on 12th June. The choir comes from Malawi. This is most definitely an event not to be missed.
What does the future hold for Victor and Aaron?  These are young men in a hurry, full of get-up-and-go and bright ideas.  They’re planning on setting up a smoothie bar, Victor told me, over the road from the market hall in Central, the building that used to house Claremont Baptist Church.  There’s lots of space available over there.  The whole place has been re-vamped and it’s flooded with light. Sounds like a great place for a smoothie bar, and who better than the Bird’s Nest boys to make it work?

In addition, they’ll be taking part in Shrewsbury’s first ever Food Festival, providing continental style breakfasts as part of the Food Safari. And then, if things continue to go well in Shrewsbury, there’s the possibility of opening up something similar to the Bird’s Nest in Birmingham too.  Already Victor and Aaron are taking the Bird’s Nest café on the road to festivals, providing vegetarian wraps and other good food.

I took Victor’s pic.  He called the girls together and I took their pic.  Then he called over Vincent and Alex and I took all their pics, laughing and looking like they enjoyed what they were doing.  Click, click, everybody was laughing by now, and people were looking on, the Bird’s Nest chirruping, the whole place abuzz.    

‘We’re so grateful to all those people who come and like the place and come back,’ Victor said.  ‘We’re just two young guys from somewhere else, and the market has embraced us whole-heartedly and the people of Shrewsbury have as well.’

The way he said it, you’d think their success was down to everybody else.  But Victor and Aaron have worked extremely hard for this -  and they show no sign of letting up. There’s an energy down at the Bird’s Nest café.  Everybody’s working hard.  Good for them. I wish them well.

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