Who we are and why we started Papadeli.
Watch a short film about the deli here
Simon and I set up the deli 15 years ago. We have seen some changes in the world of food since then. In those days, there were few quality cafes and food shops in Bristol, which is why we thought it was a good idea to start the deli. We wanted to create somewhere that provided delicious, simple food, made from scratch for customers to eat on site and take away for dinner parties or a healthy lunch. Simon made incredible salads with pulses, vibrantly coloured vegetables, nuts, cheeses – all absolutely delicious and wonderfully nutritious (this was in the days before the British fell in love with Ottolenghi). We also wanted to showcase fine foods, made by small artisan producers from across Europe and locally, from cheese to chocolate. We go excited about new suppliers and produce and enthused about them to customers. I worked in the deli, with Mark, a fellow foodie, whilst Simon cooked in the small kitchen at the back, making food for the takeaway counter. Customers started asking if we could provide food for parties and events, and the catering side started to grow. Above the deli, we had an empty storeroom and soon we realised that this space could be better used as a cafe. Papa continued cooking in the tiny kitchen downstairs and we ran the food through the deli upstairs to customers. We soon had queues for tables as there were few places offering simple, nutritious food with big flavours.
Washing everything up by hand and the tiny kitchen became slightly ridiculous so we decided to invest in an upstairs kitchen and a dishwasher. What a difference this made! We opened monthly for supper evenings (something initiated by our chef Ben who has since set up the brilliant and super popular Pasta Loco). There was soon a waiting list for these sociable little supper pop ups.
They came to film Mistresses….
We were very excited when the BBC approached us to use the deli as a venue for Mistresses . All filmed in Bristol, it became a huge hit and people still ask us about the handsome deli owner and the steamy love scene in the upstairs kitchen all these years later. They kept the name Papadeli and featured our logo on aprons and tshirts, which was such a stroke of luck for us. There were Mistresses tours of Bristol and we were often asked where the deli owner was…..
Primary school visits
Some of the high points for me were our annual visit from St John’s primary school’s reception classes. They would make their way down, hand in hand, sit in the cafe and sample salami and cheeses, visit the deli to explore the colours and shapes before leaving, all with little Papadeli goodie bags. Tomos and Sam, our two boys came as tiny four year olds and I always felt immensely proud to see them leaving with their friends, clutching their little Papadeli bags.
Since then, we have opened a cafe at the stunning Royal West of England Academy, spent five years there feeding some lovely people, before closing it a year ago when we won a large catering contract which meant we had to decide between catering and cafes. We realise that there are now so many great cafes around the area, that we are perhaps better focusing on feeding wedding guests, local businesses and guests at some of the cities wonderful venues (Colston Hall, St George’s, Circomedia, RWA).
We built a catering kitchen and cookery school
With our catering orders increasing, we invested further and built a second storey, creating a dedicated catering kitchen. Our brilliant chefs produce stunning food that always takes my breath away, even after all these years of good food! In the evenings, twice a month, we hold cookery classes – small (a maximum of 10 people) and very hands on, these have become very popular with classes selling out. I recently met someone who’d been to a class and she said she loved it for the superb quality ingredients, wonderful atmosphere and friendly feel. Everyone works around a large slate table before sitting down at the end to enjoy their creations. With a few glasses of wine and the excitement of working together to create beautiful dishes (along with a brilliantly skilful teacher, Alexis), everyone learns plenty and enjoys getting to know others during the evening.
Still loving good food
That has more or less brought us up to present day. We still stock some of our original favourites, including Dorset’s Chococo, Prestat, Rococo, which couldn’t previously be found in Bristol, along with lots of new artisan produce including superb British cheeses, chocolates made in Bristol, local gin and we’re constantly on the look out for original, delicious and hard to find delicacies. Christmas is still a magical time in the deli with handmade panettone arriving by the truckload and Papadeli mince pies flying off the counter.
I get out and about a lot and pretty much everyone I speak to has good things to say about Papadeli – if they haven’t sampled our food at an event, been to the deli or a cookery class, then they have heard good things said about us. This really makes me feel proud and I absolutely know that it’s all down to the talented, enthusiastic, dedicated people who work and who have worked at Papadeli (and our loyal, food loving customers).
I no longer work in the deli as our staff know far more about food and running a deli than I do. I focus on marketing and bits and pieces behind the scenes and works with our brilliant team of chefs and catering experts on site.
A bit about Papa, Simon MacDonnell
Simon MacDonnell had a dream of being a chef when I met him in Barcelona some twenty years ago now. He was teaching English to Spanish students and was very excited about Spanish produce & ingredients. He told me he’d like to open a restaurant one day as he loved food so much it would be his dream come true to work with food as a job.
He was my flatmate then and whilst we (the lazy layabout flatmates) were getting by on eating out quite a lot of the time, he was creating imaginative, beautiful dishes using some pretty daring (for us!) ingredients from the local markets. His passion for food was undeniable.
London & Leith’s, gastro pubs & chefs
Fast forward just over 10 years and he left his teaching job in London and risked it all to train at Leith’s School of Food and Wine. He was lucky enough to experience the kitchens of many wonderful restaurants during that time including Harvey Nichols’ famous fifth floor, Rick Stein’s in Padstow, Alastair Little’s, The Sugar Club before accepting a job at the then cutting edge Engineer gastro pub in Primrose Hill. It was a great time for gastro pubs and clientele included Kate Winslet, Oasis, Raymond Blanc, Harold Pinter. Menus were exciting and new – it was such a step away from the traditional pub fayre. Here Simon met chefs from all over the world – Patcheree, a brilliant Thai chef who still comes down to Papadeli to run Thai cookery classes and others from Brazil, Sierra Leone, France and Italy.
Five years in London found us eating in so many restaurants – from The River Cafe to Pane e Vino on Kentish Town Road, which served Sardinian food that couldn’t be beaten. We spent most of our earnings on food – enjoying the Camden Square local bistro, Lord Stanley pub not to mention the host of newbies on Upper Street in Islington and other gastro pubs like the Eagle and the Anglesea Arms.
Itching to open our own place, we decided to move back to where Simon grew up – Bristol and see where it would take us.
Simon persuaded Barney Haughton chef-owner of the unforgettable Rocinantes and later Quartier Vert to give him a job. Here he met some of Bristol’s best chefs and learned an incredible amount from Barney about the importance of being authentic with food. Rocinantes and Quartier Vert really shaped and influenced the Bristol food scene, and it could be said that the richness of choice and type of restaurants around now wouldn’t be here without that great establishment.
Papa & our deli
Tomos, our first son was born in 2001 and our dreams of owning a restaurant shifted a little. We both wanted to spend time with Tom and realised the hours of a restaurant would not work for us. There were few delis in Bristol then and when we saw a property vacant on Alma Road, we jumped on it and hoped it could work as a local deli. Simon wanted to continue cooking, and so set up a takeaway food counter, which enabled him to work sensible (ish!) hours and still make good food. He was known as Papa at Quartier Vert, having just become one, and when discussing our deli plans, his mate Mark who became Papadeli’s first manager, said “why not call it Papadeli!”
Cafe & another baby
Our dreams of having a restaurant came true in the form of an upstairs cafe (still only open during the day as it opened in 2003 when our second son, Sam was born). No dishwasher and no upstairs kitchen meant dishes were all made in the back of the deli and run upstairs by the wonderful Kelly. People loved it and we were happy.
As his wife, I can say he still gets excited about food – he still cooks at home and spends hours planning dinner parties. We still adore eating out and marvel at how the foodie landscape has changed in Bristol. It’s such a vibrant, entrepreneurial city and food is very much at its heart.
Simon maintains a low profile – he keeps his head down, doing his best to make sure Papadeli is remains a great local food business. We are lucky to have wonderful staff who feel the same as we do about food and because (I think) he’s a lovely boss, they tend to stay. We are so lucky to be surrounded by superb food, lovely people, living in our favourite city surrounded by family and friends.
It will be interesting to see how the city changes and where we next take Papadeli.
To know more about our policies & company ethos, please click on Papadeli background