Industrial estates were once the home of lock-ups, car garages and plant hire businesses. If you were lucky, you might get an instant coffee or a bacon bap from a trailer parked on the corner.
But there’s an industrial estate revolution happening and these forgotten outposts of our towns are fast becoming home to some of the coolest businesses, from craft breweries to soft plays.
And nowhere is that revolution more apparent than Totnes, where the units behind the tip have created a scene that is fast becoming one of Devon’s top multicultural foodie destinations.
While thousands of businesses are struggling through lockdown, entrepreneurs on Totnes industrial estate have found a new market for their cuisine.
In one corner of the estate, the scent of Middle Eastern and Indian food hangs in the air from two very different businesses that have made their home there.
Sima Cutting moved her Persian-inspired events catering business, The Kitchen Table, onto the industrial estate four years ago and in a bid to create full time jobs for her employees, they started serving lunches from the unit during the week.
The Kitchen Table, known for its globally-inspired food using local produce, became a lunchtime destination – and even started one of Totnes’ most popular regular music nights, working with cocktail company Bar Blaa Blaa.
But then lockdown hit and the business, like many, was forced to change.
Sima told me: “Everything that we’d planned to do was gone. All the festivals, the weddings, the events – all cancelled. I was just picking up the phone to take cancellation after cancellation.
“I started cooking ready meals. I was on my own and it was cold and we didn’t know much about the illness.
“Within a week or two I was making 200 stews a week and giving away about 50 per cent of them to homeless shelters and people self isolating. I packed them with herbs and spices to help boost people’s immune systems.”
“In July I brought my staff back part time. I was lots of catering inquiries and so I set up the takeaway. We’re doing really well, but it’s a very limited market. I’ve got a bunch of really loyal regular customers and people are discovering us regularly but we are off the main high street so it’s challenging and the market is saturated.
“We are doing lunches through the week and takeaway Thursday and Friday nights but we are different to your normal pizza or Indian so we have to plant the seed for people to encourage them to have something different.”
Nikheel Jina left his job as a teacher after setting up the Tamarind Tree last December. He now shares a unit with Alistair David, a wedding and events caterer, next door to The Kitchen Table.
Nikheel, who learnt to cook Punjabi and Gujarati food from his mum, specialises in North Indian streetfood and serves Indian lunch bowls and curries to takeaway on a Friday and Saturday.
He said: “I gave up teaching as I just wanted to do something I enjoyed.
“To start with, it was pretty laughable, the amount of work I was putting in and I was selling about 15 chicken curries.
“Lockdown was really bad to start with. What we had planned to dowas all gone. The Covid thing hurt us and I felt sorry for myself for a few weeks and then we made it work again.”
“When I started out, success for me didn’t look like this a year in. I had a gazebo or a food truck, but actually being here (on the industrial estate) brings things back to basics. It’s about good food and people will find you.
“It is giving people in Covid a chance to get out. People are socialising in their bubbles and we can provide the food.
“It started off so small and organic but as the word has spread more and more people have heard about us. We have had to support each other as businesses and there is now a stronger sense of community than ever in places like this.”
A block away, tucked out of sight, Lamaro Bakery has become famous for its stone baked pizzas and Italian cuisine.
Gala Macdonald Polanco was once the restaurant manager of the Curator Kitchen – a modern Italian restaurant above the famous Curator Cafe.
But when the first lockdown hit, the restaurant shut and has not yet reopened. Instead, the chefs make homemade pizzas and Italian food to take away from what was once the restaurant’s sister bakery business.
“It has been crazy busy since the start,” said Gala, who has also launched a Pay It Forward scheme for the bakery, offering people the chance to buy a pizza for those who struggle to afford food.
“When lockdown lifted in the summer, we had some tables outside and we did beer and wine too.
“We would have families down picking up Nikheel’s curry or food from the Kitchen Table and bringing it here to have with their pizzas. There was a real community food vibe.
“We are all supporting each other. There is a lot of mutual support and mutual respect.”
So what’s next for these businesses, once lockdown is over?
Sima said: “I have this real passion for making the estate a destination that people come to for food.
“I wanted to put a sign up calling this The Yard. You could have seating outside and get Indian, Middle Eastern or Italian food and eat it here.”
Judging by the queues in the industrial on a Friday night, The Yard would have no shortage of business.
The Kitchen Table is open for lunch daily from 10-3 weekdays and for takeaway on a Thursday and Friday night. from 5pm to 8.30pm. The Tamarind Tree is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 12 to 8pm and Lamaro Bakery is open on Fridays and Saturdays, 5pm to 9pm.