The Walnut whips up a treat for 1st birthday

A Wellington bar and restaurant, which has become the hub of the community, is marking its first birthday after owners have been left overwhelmed with the support and success of their venture.

Mayor of Wellington Anthony Lowe with Sian Ashton and owner of The Walnut Karen Lee
Mayor of Wellington Anthony Lowe with Sian Ashton and owner of The Walnut Karen Lee

It will mean that staff at The Walnut in Wellington will have double reason to celebrate when they can re-open their doors at the end of the Convid-19 isolation period.

Karen Lee opened the doors of The Walnut on Tan Bank in Wellington in May last year following a full refurbishment and followed her business plan to make her restaurant a place for people of all ages to enjoy.

However, the recent pandemic means the planned 1st birthday party will have to be put on hold but restaurant owner Karen says it will be “bigger and better with more reasons to celebrate” once they re-open.

In recent weeks Karen, her chef Kiri Pope and her manager Sian Ashton have been delivering home-made meals to vulnerable and isolated people across the borough, along with grocery boxes. The trio have been working around the clock which in turn has enabled the business to continue.

The Walnut has gained an enviable reputation for its food, service and quality during the last 12 months but owner Karen Lee said she was always just as keen for the restaurant to play a leading role in the wider community.

She has proved this community spirit since she was forced to close the doors due to Covid-19 as she launched a takeaway delivery service, along with a delivery service of emergency food boxes including fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs and milk. Karen has now opened a collection service too.

“We are passionate about supporting the local community in whatever way we can,” she said. “We employ local staff, support local businesses, get our produce locally whenever possible and get behind local projects.

“Feeding people is hugely important to us – not only in the restaurant but in the community. We have been supplying 60 hot meals each week for children at the MyFAM charity’s youth club sessions until the recent situation. We will continue to do this once the youth club re-open

“We also donate to the foodbank on Tan Bank – we didn’t realise the true importance of this until recent times .

“Helping to feed people is support at a very basic level but something which is too widely necessary and we are happy to help out where we can. This has obviously escalated since the pandemic.

“I am also a passionate rugby supporter and am delighted to sponsor the Hadley Learning Community Trust’s rugby team in their first year through kit sponsorship.”

The Walnut has become ‘home’ for many community groups including dancers, artists, crafters and business groups. These of course have had to be put on hold until The Walnut re-opens.

Many local businesses have also used the venue for ‘hot desking’ and business meetings where they can work with wi-fi, whilst also enjoying good service, food and drinks.

With family games and a children’s menu and fun seating geared around young children, the restaurant had also become a favourite for many families.

“There’s no doubt – myself and my chef Kiri are shattered but we will keep going with the deliveries as long as possible.

“The birthday party planned for May was going to be for my amazing suppliers and contacts who have been so supportive over the last 12 months.

“Now this will probably have to be an 18 month old party but I can assure everyone it will be bigger and better than first planned.

“We will have so much to be thankful for by then – this pandemic will have tested all of us – especially small, independently owned businesses but I cannot wait to re-open my doors,” she said.

Karen had built her team up to 11 members of staff until the recent pandemic and was looking to expand that team. She said she knows she will bring all of her amazing team back on board and increase the numbers once Government restrictions are relaxed.

“It’s been something of a whirlwind but it’s been a very successful year and I would like to thank the staff, our families, the council and those people who regularly support us through their custom,” she added.

“The whole Walnut idea came about when I decided to do my own thing. I have had extensive experience in managing places for other people, most recently in Shrewsbury, and decided I might as well do it for myself!

“There was a lot of work to be done when we moved in last May but it’s all been worth it – I still believe that even in the current situation.

“The Walnut was the ideal location when I was looking for premises, it’s on the edge of town, close to the car parks and extremely convenient for our customers.”

Karen’s chef Kiri Pope was sous chef at the Salwey Arms at Woofferton, between Ludlow and Leominster and Sian Ashton took on the role of manager.

“We have held a range of events over the year including gin and whiskey tasting sessions, played a part in Wellington Festival and are looking at hosting regular supper clubs.

“It’s certainly been a busy and exciting first year and we look forward to raising a glass with our friends to toast our success while looking forward to building on that success in the years ahead – we will just be raising a glass a little later than planned.”

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