Welcome to the Fairfield Social Club – the latest concept from independent street food supremos Grub, which is injecting new life into a once neglected part of central Manchester.
Sitting just across the street from Manchester Piccadilly Station is the Mayfield Depot, an abandoned turn-of-the-century train station silently decaying on the south side of Fairfield Road. Sealed off from the public since 1960, the derelict red brick station, with its broken and boarded up windows, is part of a wider 24-acre site that over the intervening decades had fallen into disuse and disrepair.
That is until Grub came along. The street food collective, run by husband and wife team Jason and Jules Bailey, is inviting the north’s most innovative traders to give this long forgotten site a new lease of life.
Grub moved to the Mayfield Depot in June after winning a legion of fans with its pop-up food fairs at Manchester city centre breweries Runaway and Alphabet. The fair then moved to the Baring Street side of the Mayfield plot, an outdoor location featuring six street food vendors operating from a series of converted shipping containers. The fair was an instant hit, providing a changing array of quality global cuisine served by passionate independent traders.
After a summer in the shipping containers, Grub decided to move inside, unveiling its latest concept – the Fairfield Social Club – in October. Now the fair’s winter home, the site is located in the cavernous railway arches of the Mayfield and boasts more than enough space for five traders and a bar serving traditional sodas and craft beers.
The ceilings are so high that there is room for a second floor with extra seating, a great vantage point from which to scan the fair from above. Downstairs wooden benches, vintage sofas and reclaimed armchairs give the space a homespun friendly vibe, emphasising the Fairfield Social Club’s family feel.
“We’ve always said we want it to be really inclusive and we’ve always tried to make sure we look after veggies and vegans,” explains Grub co-founder Jules Bailey.
“We’ve said you can bring your dog. We want it to be the kind of place you can bring your nan and won’t feel like it’s pretentious. It’s laid-back.”
This commitment to inclusivity comes from Grub’s origins on the stalls of Levenshulme market. Jules and Jason started out running a Colombian food stall once a month, balancing the market with a food blog and full-time jobs. As traders themselves the Baileys could see a gap in the market for a truly independent food event in Manchester.
“Every time we wanted to do an independent dedicated street food event where we weren’t being charged a ridiculous pitch fee or we didn’t feel like someone was trying to make loads of money out of us, and the people were nice and genuine, we were having to travel to Leeds or Sheffield,” Bailey explains.
“We were trading at Blackjack Brewery [Irk Street, Manchester] once and they were like ‘this lady from Network Rail told us there’s a railway arch round the corner, wouldn’t that be good to put an event in?’ We said ‘we know all the traders’, and they said ‘we’ve got all the beers’, so it went from there.”
The Grub duo sent out an email to all the traders they knew, explaining their plan to start their own events which supported grassroots street food operators by taking a trader-focused stance.
Grub now works with over 40 street food traders, large and small. The Fairfield Social Club has a rotating list of vendors including the likes of Yes Doughnuts!, wood fired pizza van Pizza Pedlars, pie makers Pietanic, Hungarian street food specialist Hun Street Kitchen and Malaysian cuisine from Nasi Lemak.
While on Friday and Saturday meat is firmly on the menu, every Sunday the Fairfield Social Club goes vegan. Launched on October 29, the Plant Powered Sundays event features a vegan feast from the likes of Drizzle City Bakes, Rosie & Organic and gourmet macaroni cheese purveyors, Mac Daddies.
A vegan herself for the past two years, Bailey explains how she wanted to bring independent, great tasting vegan food into the spotlight. Having trialled the concept at the start of the year, she was surprised by how fast vegan food caught on.
“At the end of January we started with the ‘Extra-Veganza’ and it was like the craziest Grub event ever. We had people queuing at 10.50am down the road to get in and from the minute we opened to the minute the last trader had sold out it was packed,” Bailey recalls.
“We were originally just going to have one trader and the bar, but now it’s gone to four traders – three hot food and one dessert. Probably fewer people come down than on a Saturday, but people stay here longer. It’s a different atmosphere, people aren’t here to drink. Sometimes we meet people who say they don’t like vegan food and then we’re surprised to see them turn up at the event. Whether you’re vegan or not, it’s all about the food.”
While many new traders get in touch hoping to work with Grub, Bailey finds a lot of new names via Instagram. One of Grub’s biggest success stories is Oh/Mei/Dumpling.
“She started out as someone we were looking at on Instagram and she loved making dumplings and we were like, ‘do you want to start a stall?’ So she did and now she has her own business. She quit her job and started making dumplings,” Bailey explains.
Joining the roster in the New Year will be Filipino street food trader Cooking with Mamaz. The Baileys were blown away after she sent Grub a link to her Instagram account showing examples of her cookery.
“Whenever someone gets in touch with something that we’ve never heard of I’m always really excited about that. You just want to have food that people have never seen,” says Bailey.
Grub is passionate about supporting grassroots traders, which is why it will not be adding established restaurants to the food fair roster any time soon.
“Part of the reason we were disillusioned is that you’d go to an event and you’d be trading alongside a massive restaurant and everyone would say ‘oh I know that restaurant, let’s go there’,” she recalls.
“They’d have a massive budget to make their stall look really good. They were using it as a marketing opportunity with like 10 staff and just pumping food out. We’ve even been to events where people were giving out free food as a marketing thing. So we always said no restaurants.”
However, while you will never see a restaurant at a Grub food fair, the Baileys are interested in exploring the possibility of teaming up with local restaurants to host banquets at the site.
Going forward the Fairfield Social Club will continue to operate in its current location, although Grub itself may move around, potentially expanding out into a yard space at the Mayfield over the summer. Bailey is keen to explore how the indoor space could also be used as a music or comedy venue, with the size easily able to accommodate 300 to 400 people.
“You know a lot of smaller venues in Manchester have been closing and we don’t want the music scene to suffer. We want to do the same thing with music, we don’t want to charge promoters loads to be here,” she explains.
Grub and the Fairfield Social Club are very much the anchor of the £850m regeneration of the Mayfield’s 24-acre site. The property company spearheading the Mayfield development, U+I, plans to create a bustling and inclusive new neighbourhood combining independent venues with 1,300 homes, 75,000 sq m of office space and a public park.
“The Mayfield have got a 10-year plan for this area and having seen the plans it’s amazing. Their ethos is amazing. They only want to bring the highest quality independent businesses down here, they’re not interested in working with big chains,” says Bailey.
“They’ve been so supportive for us. They got someone to get this place ready for us and they’ve said ‘we trust you, do whatever you want’. A lot of people have said, you’ve come a long way, but we’ve had a lot of luck as well. We were in the right place at the right time.”