Stephanie Whalley talks to founder Jamie McIlhatton on great coffee and the great Wirral outdoors
The Wirral might have become more renowned for its population of senior citizens and density of bougie estate agents in recent years, but it's on the cusp of a bit of a renaissance. The peninsula has become home to a tsunami of new independent businesses and local producers and leading the way are two Wirral-born lads, Jamie McIlhatton and Warren Norton. The duo is the brains behind the contemporary and conscious WYLDE brand under which they launched Heswall-based cafe WYLDE Coffee back in November 2019 and its coastal counterpart Lateral by WYLDE in West Kirby during the January lockdown.
It's a healthy practice to slow down and appreciate the sunsets we get on West Kirby; the fact that we have actual seals living around Hilbre Island
We caught up with WYLDE founder and environmental boffin Jamie to dig a little deeper beneath WYDLE and Lateral’s über-cool, Nordic-style exterior. We lift the lid on the cookie jar for a bite of the sweet story of sustainability and local loyalty that sets the scene for this burgeoning independent brand.
Can you tell us more about yourselves?
Jamie: We’re both from pretty different backgrounds. Warren studied Politics & Economics and I studied Zoology & Wildlife Conservation as a degree and Environmental Sustainability as a Masters. Between studying though, we were flatmates here on the Wirral and worked in the same coffee shop. We soaked up as many hours as humanly possible and made an incomprehensible amount of coffee; pretty sure our diet was 100% Flat White for a while.
We decided to explore coffee a little further, learning about local roasters, different origins and processing methods. We also liked going down to local beaches and woodland on the Wirral. We'd take a bag of coffee from a local roaster and a stove and do our best to brew something fairly drinkable. We made a lot of mistakes and sipped on some awful cups of coffee (completely our fault), had a laugh being failures and removed the seriousness people associate with speciality coffee.
Can you tell us more about the WYLDE brand ethos?
Jamie: Our story is based around sustainability and reconnecting to nature in a more accessible way. We’re just two guys who appreciate what the outdoors does for us and we want to protect it. It may be physical health or mental health or just providing something beautiful, but here on the Wirral, we have some amazing natural locations that we feel should be embraced and protected. We wanted to build a story - one of reconnecting with our local wilderness by also reconnecting with speciality coffee and the producers behind each bag.
How do you approach your sustainability practice?
Jamie: Similar to our approach to speciality coffee, we wanted to remove the imposter syndrome that came with sustainability. It was never about telling people they were living in the wrong way, it was about extracting pride for living on the Wirral; pride for what we have on our doorstep. We called it our Doorstep Wilderness and the message was to use it and nurture it. It’s trendy to always want to be somewhere else, but it's a healthy practice to slow down and appreciate the sunsets we get on West Kirby; the fact that we have actual seals living around Hilbre Island; the fact you can go to the Meols Stretch and see an Octopus.
I'm a freelance Sustainability Consultant, so I work with businesses from a whole range of industries and it's a really worthwhile 'check-in' to practise what I preach and ensure we're leading the way where we can. It's also about maintaining the appeal to local people and not pushing the agenda to a point which alienates your customers.
How did you find launching a new hospitality venue during lockdown?
Jamie: We believe in what we do and we felt it was a risk worth taking. On the surface, seeing us open a second place probably looks like we're having an easy time of it but it's been quite the opposite. It was definitely a leap of faith but we had an opportunity to open a shop in West Kirby, which was always the second place we wanted to be. It was a chance to offer more jobs as well as grow and experiment further with food and cocktails. Fortunately, people around here have been genuinely amazing. They've dragged us through two lockdowns now and we're part-way into a third and the support has never wavered. We're just feeling incredibly lucky to be open and able to do what we do.
Would you say WYLDE Coffee and Lateral are twins, siblings or distant relatives?
Jamie: Well, I'm a twin myself and there are plenty of differences between us so let's go with that. They're from the same brand but each has its own identity. It's why we named our second, Lateral by WYLDE. We hope to stretch our legs a little bit but still remain close and carry over all of our values from WYLDE Coffee.
Why the Wirral?
Jamie: It's beautiful - and there's an incredible community spirit here. Everyone celebrates cities and every exciting business seems to open in the city. It never made sense to us that we had to go over to Liverpool for certain experiences. The Wirral can hold its own, with incredible history, natural locations and huge talent across all disciplines. The more we show some love to our peninsula, the more exciting it'll be to live here and be from here.
Any plans to bring the WYLDE brand to Liverpool in the future?
Jamie: We're not ruling it out. Our vision is to just continue being passionate about food, drink and providing an experience for our customers. If we feel, somewhere down the line, that we could contribute and add value to another area, we'll consider it. For now though, we're just riding the wave of being open in two amazing locations, who've welcomed us with open arms and we want to keep pushing to give those customers something new and exciting all year round.
If you could go for a coffee with any Scouse legend alive or dead - who and why?
Jamie: Me and Warren are both big Evertonians (much to the dismay of many of our customers) so I'm tempted to take it down that route and say Dixie Dean. However, I'm going to say Paul Askew from The Art School- an amazing Liverpool chef; I'd just sit there and absorb his passion for good food.
WYDLE Coffee, 86 Telegraph Road, Heswall, Wirral CH60 0AQ
Lateral by WYLDE, 83 Banks Road, West Kirby, Wirral CH48 0RA
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