With his home and heart in Cheshire, foodie Steven Walker is on a mission to bring quality cuisine to the county
“My family is very much a foodie one, it’s a family of market gardeners and fruit and vegetable retailers,” smiles restaurateur Steven Walker. Originally born in Lancashire, Steven now resides in Cheshire with his wife Emma and their two children.
This avid foodie is the owner of Individual Restaurants, with 38 restaurants to his name. Nine of the premises are in Cheshire, with two – Opera Grill and Piccolino – in Chester. Alderley Edge is home to The Alderley Bar & Grill and another Piccolino, and there are more Piccolinos in Hale, Bramhall, Stockton Heath, Didsbury and Knutsford. Not to mention a further three venues in Manchester: Piccolino Caffe Grande, The Restaurant Bar & Grill and Gino D’Acampo My Restaurant.
Despite having accumulated such an impressive portfolio, Steven actually started out as a stockbroker before investing in manufacturing and retail food businesses.
“My first came about by accident,” he says. “I'd sold my main food businesses and thought it sounded like a good idea to invest in a few restaurants that I liked. The business just grew from there. I originally bought three restaurants in Manchester and Cheshire, and now we have 12 in those areas.”
The aspirational village of Alderley Edge proved a natural fit for Steven’s venues, and he has an Italian and a grill in the area. “Both offer premium dining experiences,” explains Steven. “Our grills serve internationally inspired menus using outstanding ingredients and our Italians offer classic Italian dishes.
Perhaps one of the most striking of the restaurateur’s collection though, is the Opera Grill in Chester. “My business partner said he wanted to build the best restaurant outside London,
in Chester,” notes the entrepreneur. “We wanted not only great food and service, but great atmosphere and entertainment too.
“People are looking for consistently great food, but you also need a great team of people who want to deliver outstanding service and try to beat the expectations of their guests. People also like spotless restaurants, in particular the toilets!” he laughs.
“Last but not least is atmosphere, which we create through the great personality of our team, excellent entertainment, amazing design and al fresco dining.”
The 400-seater restaurant boasts a ground-floor restaurant and bar, a first-floor restaurant and bar with a music lounge, along with a south-facing all-year-round roof terrace.
The listed building underwent extensive restoration before opening as the Opera Grill. Dating back to 1836, when it was a Methodist chapel, the Grade II-listed façade features neoclassical Greek architecture with pillars, pediment and a portico, lending all the drama it needs to live up to the venue’s new name.
The interior meanwhile was designed by Bernard Carroll, and blends an industrial style with touches of opulence. In fact, Steven and his team have done such an impressive job with Opera Grill that they were shortlisted for the prestigious 2016 Northern Design Awards.
In addition to the amazing appearance of the place, other popular features of this restaurant are the regular live entertainment and the set lunch and early evening menus, which Steven says have proven a hit for one key reason. “Cheshire offers some amazing seasonal produce, which we follow through on our menus as the seasons change,” he enthuses.
“Focusing on provenance and quality local produce is central to our menu development. We also own our own butchers in Cheshire where we're able to buy local beef, lamb and pork. This means we're able to fully control the quality, ensuring the very best meat is served in all our restaurants.”
Not resting on his laurels, unsurprisingly Steven has big plans to expand his business in the future. “We definitely have more restaurants to come in our heartland of Cheshire,” he adds. “Manchester has so much to offer, but within only one hour you can also sample some of the nicest countryside around.”
Individual Restaurants. Tel: 0161 839 5511. www.individualrestaurants.com
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