‘You have to keep moving forward,’ says owner Aarti Ormsby, on why this is a positive move

Chaat Cart, one of Manchester’s original street food vendors, is closing their Marple restaurant. The last service will be on Saturday 1st February.

The restaurant, which opened in May 2017 (reviewed here), was the first bricks and mortar site for owner Aarti Ormsby who had built up a loyal following for serving top quality South Indian street food at markets, festivals and events.

Chaat Cart was named Street Food Vendor of the Year in the Manchester Food and Drink Awards 2017 and was among the inaugural residents at Spinningfield’s The Kitchens project which ran a competition to help fledgling street food businesses to secure a more permanent site. 

We’re not shutting the doors completely, we’ve just come to the end of this part of our journey

The Good Food Guide 2020 listed it as a local gem, citing 'bold, vibrant small plates' and 'fantastic service'. However, fans of Chaat Cart’s food can still find them at The Produce Hall in Stockport, The Mad Giant in Didsbury and Kommune in Sheffield.

We had a chat with owner Aarti to hear about why the restaurant closure is actually a forward step.

What led to the decision to close the Marple restaurant?

AO - “It’s quite a complicated question and there’s a lot to it. The way people go out is evolving, which is why I’m such a big advocate for food halls. We started off doing street food and then opened our own restaurant. But food halls are closer in spirit to what we were doing before with our pop ups and we’ve potentially got another couple in the pipeline. So we’re evolving our business model – if that makes sense.” 

Once the restaurant has closed, where can people find you?

AO – “The Produce Hall in Stockport, The Mad Giant in Didsbury and Kommune in Sheffield.”

2019 03 29 Produce Hall Stockport Img 9287
Chaat Cart has a pitch at The Produce Hall, Stockport

So is having more outlets with a faster turnover part of your new business plan?

AO – “At the food halls we can just concentrate on the food, whereas the restaurant also has the service aspect of it, the bar and other complications. So, although it was fantastic to have and it’s been wonderful to showcase what we could do, I think in spirit, the food halls help us stay closer to what we were doing before. I like the accessibility. Not just with the location but price point and the kind of food. You can come in three times a week at lunch, or with your family at the weekends. You can have bigger groups of people who can all have something different, whereas a restaurant they all have to have pretty much the same type of thing. Eating out is more of an occasion these days where you have to book beforehand and commit to at least a couple of hours.”

Will you still be catering for private parties?

AO – “Yes, absolutely. We’re going to keep that up now we’re not doing so many festivals and events. We still have the same chefs and the same recipes and the same sort of commitment to serving the food we had at the restaurant. Just email me.”

Chaat Cart Festival
Email Aarti if you want Chaat Cart to cater your next party

Did owning a restaurant conflict with your work life balance?

AO – “It’s not something I publicly talk about, but I do have three children under eight, and a restaurant is such a big commitment in terms of time. So partly, having one less site, will also allow me to have more of that.

"I really enjoyed it and it’s something I never thought I could do, but compared to the other sites, a restaurant is a much more complex being. With our restructuring and refocusing, we can now put our attention on one thing rather than trying to do everything and be all things to all people. We can now focus our energy and attention to making the food hall as good as it can be.”

What was the thing that finally made you decide to look at addressing your business model?

AO – “I don’t think it was just one thing or that anything that’s gone wrong. If you read what I put on Facebook, I really want to celebrate the positive things that came out of it based on it being the right time to sort of bow out, rather than thinking something bad has happened. The costs of running a restaurant are significantly higher than being part of a food hall as I’ve said several times before to anyone who would listen. It’s the difference between, say, being in a shared house and splitting the bill, versus owning your own house and having to pay to fix the roof. I really do see how the way people are eating is evolving. My youngest is about to start school in September, so this is the last bit of time I’m really going to get with them.”

What’s happening to your staff?

AO - "Everybody has been offered alternative employment at one of the other sites. Not one person has said, ‘right, I’m off.’ We’re not shutting the doors completely, we’ve just come to the end of this part of our journey and we’re really proud of what we’ve achieved. Really proud. It’s a bit sad, but I don’t feel like we’ve failed.

“We have got some really good teams. We’ve taken people that have been with us and promoted from within, which is really nice. Terry who runs our Stockport branch was pretty much our first employee from when we started in The Kitchens in Spinningfields. When we won the Manchester Food and Drink Festival street food award, Charlie, who’s on all the pictures, is now managing Didsbury. We’ve got people who have come through the ranks, so it’s really nice in terms of trust. I have a lot of faith in them and I’m quite excited.”

So it’s more of a new chapter then

AO – “Yes, that’s a really nice way of putting it.”

What can you reveal about plans for the future?

AO – “There are a few creative opportunities and collaborations that I’m looking at, but I can't really say too much about it yet. But we’re still around and we’re actually easier for most people to get to now. We’re now more of an accessible budget friendly option.”

170406 Chaat Cart
South Indian food is their speciality

What’s your day-to-day involvement?

AO – “I’m still completely involved, every day, looking after the menus, the setting up, the flow. I do everything from designing, marketing, food tasting, cooking and training. You know what it’s like when you run your own business and still have to do things like the washing up and removing cobwebs and changing the toilet rolls. That’s the nature of it. Chaat Cart is still very much a family business – still just my husband and me sorting HR and finance and such. We’ve been around a long time but it’s still just us, so we’re like a little indie that has a few sites but the heart and soul is still there.”

How have things changed?

AO – “We were doing Indian street food, like, eight years ago, and now it’s become more mainstream like a lot of other things we’ve brought to the restaurant. We never ever had plastic straws for example, always paper, and we were one of the first to do gin tastings. We’d work with brands that we’d met at the markets and invite them to come and showcase their brand. Now it’s quite commonplace to go for a gin tasting. 

 “When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re kind of beating your own path. It might not always be right, but you kind of have to try.”

Find Chaat Cart at The Produce Hall in Stockport, The Mad Giant in Didsbury and Kommune in Sheffield.

Chaat Cart's Facebook statement in full -

To our friends, beloved guests and suppliers

Chaat Cart started as a streetfood stall in 2012 to recreate the dishes from my childhood in India. Following on, we wanted to set up our first bricks-and-mortar place, in our beautiful hometown of #Marple, to share our food and showcase seasonal ingredients. And YOU welcomed us with open arms. Our wonderful team brought our vision to life and YOU made us your local… your mid-week date night place, your birthday and anniversary place and your place to bring visiting family. We’ve met the bumps and have then been the babies’ first outing.

We are privileged and overwhelmed to be part of your life and your special moments. Thank you! Thank you to everyone who has supported us in so many ways. Thank you to the incredible people that work with us! Thank you Marple.

We have had a wonderful couple of years and are very proud of what we’ve achieved with our Chaat Cart restaurant in Marple. From having paper straws before it was fashionable, to community events, hosting freelancer and vegan nights to the numerous gin tastings! We’ve since opened three new sites, been in the papers, nominated for awards and recently we achieved a listing in the 2020 UK Good Food Guide as a local gem.

We have achieved everything we want to achieve and there are new opportunities that we are hoping to explore this year. We will be focussing on our foodhall sites in The Produce Hall in Stockport, Kommune in Sheffield and The Mad Giant in Didsbury which will be open as usual. We will still be around, cooking delicious South Indian food for you with a couple of new projects in 2020; which we’ll share with you soon.

Saturday 1st February is our last day cooking in our Marple restaurant where all of us have made so many beautiful memories. Please come along in the next couple of weeks and say goodbye. Come eat us out of house and home and send us off in style, we’d love to see you.

No, I’m not crying you’re crying…😢

Lots of love from Aarti xx