Ah Headingley. The busiest, most frantic part of our fine city frequented mainly by sleepy students and angry drivers. When a quiet, stylish cafe bar first popped up on the main strip of Otley Road we have to be honest and say we were dubious about its future. Nestled amongst charity shops and pound-a-pint pubs, was this really the right place for somewhere to chill?
Frankly, yes. Not only is Whites a welcome oasis of calm in an otherwise crackers high street, its food ranks up there with the best value and best quality the city has seen in a while. And their tranquil space really works in an otherwise hurried setting.
We caught up with owner, Alison White, who told us about her love of Leeds, great customer service and experimenting with new dishes.
Who are you and how did you get here?
We are Whites Cafe Bar on Otley Road in Headingley. We serve all day breakfasts, sandwiches, salads, burgers, flatbreads, cakes, hot and cold drinks and a wide range of alcohol.
I have been running market research companies since I was a teenager (working predominantly for large food and beverage businesses) and when the opportunity arose to open my own cafe directly underneath my research business I jumped at the chance. Having never worked in the catering trade previously it was a slightly daunting concept but I jumped into it with both feet and hired some amazing staff who have contributed massively to our success.
We opened our doors in October 2014 as a deli/takeaway with limited seating but it soon became apparent that what Headingley actually wanted was a chilled out haven away from the hustle and bustle to relax and eat freshly prepared food. We have been developing the concept over the last 10 months with the addition of our alcohol licence, regular live music, our Wednesday night quiz and are now open six nights a week until 11pm. We are still and will always be continuously improving upon our offering and our service; owning a research company has made me acutely aware how important it is to be customer-centric.
What do you think makes Whites unique?
We put love into our food and service and we love and appreciate all of our customers. We have tried to create a brand that is inclusive to all and genuinely care about giving our customers the highest possible quality of food and customer service. We are dog-friendly and it’s a great place to bring children to with a well-equipped baby changing area and things to keep the kids entertained. We also have a good selection of board games which have been a real hit. Our kitchen is fully open plan so our customers can see their food being freshly prepared and can get to know our kitchen staff too, they are a lovely bunch.
What’s your favourite item available at Whites?
We sometimes test out new menu items by putting them on as specials to start with to see what the reaction to them will be. We have an Indian spiced lamb burger served with sweet potato fries on at the moment which is to die for and at £7.95 they are flying out the door.
What’s your most popular event?
Our live music that we have on every Friday and Saturday brings in a really good crowd. We have a large pool of local musicians from a whole host of different genres that come along and play. You can come along and just have a drink or you can order some dinner too from our menu till around 10pm.
What can customers expect from your business?
Customers can expect to be served the freshest, tastiest food in a fun, friendly and relaxed atmosphere. We get to know our customers personally and have many regulars. We even have one customer who comes in three or four times a day! We welcome criticism and are constantly striving for perfection. It is the kind of place that you can come and hang out in by yourself day or night and leave with a whole new bunch of friends.
What do you think makes Leeds so awesome?
I moved to Leeds from Scotland nine years ago and fell in love with it. It reminds me so much of back home, the people are so down to earth. There is a such a buzz about the place with so much diversity, there is something for everyone.
Where do you like to hang out in Leeds?
Being so busy with both of my businesses I don’t tend to find too much time to socialise but when I do I like to hang out in the likes of Friends of Ham and Bundobust in town and The Mustard Pot in Chapel Allerton.
Finally, describe Whites in three words…
Friendly, fresh and customer-centric.