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Meet the people making Waterloo one of the most exciting places to be in Merseyside

The Echo Business News

Waterloo’s independent scene is still on the rise.

In a city filled with bustling high streets and new restaurant openings seemingly everyday, it’s easy to lose sight of the smaller, more humble abodes.  Amongst these hidden gems is the ever growing, independent-hub of Waterloo.  Shoppers can head out along South Road and St. John’s Road, pick up everything they need – and more – and make some new friends through the experience.  In recent years, independents businesses throughout Waterloo have thrived, thanks to support from the local community and each other.  The independent scene in Waterloo ranges from restaurants and coffee shops to bakeries and book stores, each offering something truly unique.

We spoke to some of the independents making Waterloo such a vibrant location in Liverpool.

Plaza Community Cinema

The Plaza was originally opened in 1939, operating as such until 1995, when the owners notified the public that it would be undergoing redevelopment.  Here lies the story of the Plaza we know today.  The local community pulled together to save the cinema and, after a long battle, the cinema was re-opened in July 1997.  The cinema has three screens, the largest of which seats more than 500 and features the original chairs from 1939.  Cinema Manager Martin Fol celebrates his 20th year with the company this week, starting out as a volunteer usher many years ago, before becoming manager in 2011.

Martin said: “We’ve spent 21 years as a community theatre, we’re affordable – always have been, always will be.  People travel to us because of the experience they get when they come here, first impressions are so important and when you’ve got smiling, friendly volunteers as the first thing people see, it’s not hard to see why they keep coming back.”

The art deco cinema offers screening of some of the biggest movies available, and even offers special screenings that are Autism, Alzheimer’s and Dementia friendly.

Martin said: “As a community theatre, we do so much ourselves, I mean the staff and I have just been scrubbing the seats ourselves to make sure they’re fresh now that the kids have gone back to school.  “I think if we were a normal cinema things would be really different, but we’re the hub of Sefton and I’d like to think every town could have a community cinema.”

Caz’s Kitchen

Caroline Hill launched Caz’s Kitchen 5 years ago, following a career in the food development industry, which saw her working with huge retailers such as M&S.  Caz’s Kitchen serves up delicious items including cakes, pastries and even a selection of raw vegan treats.  The menu at Caz’s Kitchen changed seasonally, with many ingredients dependent on what is available from Caroline’s personal allotment.  According to Caroline, the best sellers are old faithfuls such as bakewell tarts and victoria sponge, but her raw vegan selection is quite popular too.

The business began in Caroline’s kitchen at home, where she started baking for Delifonseca and Dafna’s Cheesecake Factory after spending years pursuing her dream of opening a cafe and deli.

Caroline said: “Ann from Dafna’s is like the godmother of baking, she gave me my first baking job so without her I wouldn’t be where I am now.  I didn’t expect it to be as well received as it was, the community just loved what we were doing.  It’s really nice to see everyone come through the door in treat mode”.

Finally achieving her goal, Caz’s Kitchen was opened on St. John’s Road; Caroline said: “The road was historically tired and run down, but now with some TLC quirky, little business can afford to rent here”.

St. John’s Road is now 100 percent independent businesses, with over 70 finding a home on the Waterloo street.

Caroline went on to say: “Giving up a 9 to 5 job to do a 24 hour one is not as easy as people think. You’ve got to really love it.  For me, it’s not about the money, it’s about the love, it’s about the lifestyle and adding to my community.”

Each year, Caroline organises the St John’s Road Christmas party, bringing together all the independents along the street and giving customers the chance to see the businesses like never before.

“A lot of the time people don’t really want to go in to shops because they’re maybe a bit wary but it was a good night to be able to tell people to just go in and have a look even if you’re not buying anything, just see what they do.  All our customers could be each other’s customers. 

Hampers

Having spent 25 years on St. John’s Road, Brian Williams’ Hampers has get plenty of longevity under its belt, with the added charm of friendly, local, sandwich shop.  Starting off as a small butchers/ deli, Hamper’s was taken over by Brian in 1994 after working as the Manager for 18 months.  Hampers offers everything from cooked meats and salad boxes to freshly made sandwiches and catered buffets.  To set itself apart, Hampers prepares all of it’s food fresh and to order, Brian said: “We don’t make anything until our customers walk through the door, it’s completely different from the standard, ready made stuff you’ll find in the supermarket.

“It’s great because nowadays people are more health conscious and want to know exactly what’s in their food, we can give them that by doing it in front of them.  We’ve got a great location and a lot of passing trade, but our regulars in the community have kept us going.  “It’s really nice to see everyone come through the door in treat mode.  “We see people outside on the street and know exactly what they have for lunch”.

“The staff is like a family – my Saturday lad started when he was about 14 and he’s about 26 now – we look after each other.”

As one of the longest-standing residents on the street, Brian has seen a huge change in St. John’s Road since the rise of independents – he said: “The road is thriving, it’s so nice to see new businesses.  It used to be all banks and fruit and veg shops before there was a huge slump and loads of places shut – it’s great to see it coming back to life.  Now this road has got a lot of independents, it makes it easier for customers to get everything they need, practically in one place.  You can park your car up and go for a walk, there’s so much variety in this road than there has been in years – it’s all about being switched on to the community”.

“I think the public feel more comfortable with independents because we make the effort to get to know them, we’re on first name terms – I can tell you which on the local’s has just had her hair done”.

For Brian, the support of his Waterloo community has meant a huge difference, because when he was diagnosed with cancer, of which he has just recently been cleared, many of Brian’s loyal customers took to visiting him in the hospital.

Brian said: “It gave me inspiration to get back to work – you just don’t get that community and family feeling anywhere else. I wouldn’t be here today without the support of my staff and my customers, it was them that gave me the strength to push myself to get back into my business”.

Brian and the team at Hampers now do a lot of work for different charities, including Macmillan and the Alzheimer’s Society.

157 St John’s Rd, Waterloo, Liverpool, L22 9QE

Write Blend

Another hidden gem of South Road is tucked away amongst the hustle and bustle of the busy street, offering a quiet refuge amid books and coffee.  Owner Bob Stone, who is an independent author in his own right, launched Write Blend after many years of dreaming about such a place.  Having worked on South Road for 24 years, Bob had often said to friends that if he were to win the lottery he’d make one of the rundown storefronts a place that was part coffee shop, part book store.

While he never quite won the lottery, Bob went ahead with his plans for Write Blend anyway, and now its a place where people go to relax, read and even write themselves.

Bob said: “South Road is becoming a good place for independent shops, though we’re still finding it difficult against the big boys.  We face a lot of competition, being a bookshop, there’s just so much access online and in supermarkets now – so we have to try and be different.  That’s why I love to work with independent authors, because it is so difficult to get your books into shops due to affordability and I want to be able to do that for them, but it also means we have something that others don’t”.

Write Blend hosts children’s music sessions, music nights and book signings too, with Bob’s aim of becoming a community hub in sight.

Bob said: “The nature of the business is peaceful and relaxing and that’s what we want people to know, there’s nothing quite like it.  hile you can pick up new and pre-loved books downstairs, the coffee shop overhead offers a unique blend of coffee from Joe Blacks and a quite, peaceful environment to soak up.

Write Blend also stocks candles, trinkets and even handmade cards from other local independents.

“The local businesses all need to support each other because we’re all trying to do the same thing.

“We’re not just trying to sell something, we’re a service and we can do that as long as we’re supported” said Bob.  Having spent many years working on South Road, Bob has seen a shift, he said: “There’s a massive difference, South Road used to be a real shopping road and little by little the supermarkets have taken a lot of the business.

“Really, local people need to take it back.  I think if the people of Waterloo came and had another look, they’d see what South Road has become.”

124 South Rd, Waterloo, Liverpool, L22 0ND

CAN

A more recent addition to Waterloo’s independent scene, CAN is a cafe and bar with an environmentally friendly twist.  Husband and Wife duo Ryan and Louise King launched CAN after struggling to find vegan options outside of the city centre – so they decided to do it themselves in August 2018.  The cafe is 100% vegan and plastic free, with Louise describing CAN as “All about sustainability, 100% vegan, 100% conscious”.  Everything in the venue is recycled and even the furniture itself is upcycled, with the bar being made out of the old DJ booth at PANAM and the benches created from crushed up cans.

The menu changes daily, serving up dishes such as burgers, fries, soups, pie and even coffee and cafe – all of which is vegan.

CAN hosts regular themed kitchen takeovers for up and coming chefs and other small businesses to showcase their skills – there’s even a Havana Nights-themed one coming up.

“We live here and we love it. We think it is full of vibrant people and the beach is a major factor.  The atmosphere on St. John’s Road is a family attitude, we were welcomed with open arms by the other independents, everyone looks out for one another it’s a real good, feel good community.  It’s important to support your local business because it builds the local economy, and it the community unique”.

32 St John’s Rd, Waterloo, Liverpool L22 9QG

Spitroast

One of South Road’s most loved restaurants, owned and operated by Adam Lunt, has been serving the people of Waterloo for 2 years now.  Offering a contemporary take on European rotisserie chicken, Spitroast serves locally sourced food including popular options such as the chicken wings and drumstick dishes.  Adam trained as a chef for many years after growing up in Southern Spain, where rotisserie chicken is a staple food.

Having decided to take the plunge and open his very own restaurant, Adam knew that rotisserie chicken would have to be on the menu.

Adam said: “What we have created is great and I haven’t looked back since.

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