Indie Oxford Interview: The Handle Bar Cafe & Kitchen
Today we talk to Celine Wills co-owner of The Handle Bar Cafe & Kitchen, about her inspiration for the cafe, local produce, the importance of the local community and new projects afoot!
Tell me about yourself, and how The Handle Bar started.
I have worked in the industry in Oxford for about 18 years, in the last years opening places for other people. I love food and come from a family where everything is grown at home.
I started working on my own, opening a little pop up café on a pick your own farm. It grew from strength to strength and I like to say that Stuart, the owner of Bike Zone, literally came to find me in a field to open his kitchen.
The Handlebar is a fabulous little gem of a building, the atmosphere and light are incredible. I knew I had to say yes, but having just had a second child, the challenge seemed a bit of a mountain to climb. Luckily my now business partner Eric was super keen to join the parade!
What is the inspiration behind the menu?
Both Eric and I are French but this probably shows more in our love of ingredients than the menu. And also the pride that we have in making everything from scratch, with local, seasonal ingredients.
I have a passion for the suppliers that we use and developing a relationship with them.
Just the other day I was catering at a yoga retreat at Turley Farm, while talking to the owner about his beautiful vegetable garden, pigs and cows, he mentioned that one of the cows was going into slaughter the following day and if I wanted half! Well of course! I know this is a controversial move!!! But the reason why we rarely have beef on the menu is because the high welfare local one is just too expensive for us and our customers. Meeting the cow in the field, knowing the background ensured high welfare and that means everything! I just had to organise a cold room for 28 days…which is where that all important supplier relationship came paying off, the wonderful Ollie from Patrick Strainge in Bampton took it and hung it for 28 days for us.
I know we do a lot of vegan food so some people might see this as a paradox. I believe the true role of eating food is to produce joy, whatever your diet, we will provide, I went vegan for 6 months to understand the nutritional challenges, I stopped dairy because of the atrocities of dairy farming, I love growing vegetables and my dream is to have a small holding where my pigs would be called “bacon” and “hock”.
Where do you source produce for the restaurant?
We follow the seasons so vegetable suppliers can vary accordingly. Fish is NewWave as they ensure sustainability of all their fish. Meat is mostly Patrick Strainge in Bampton, seriously, have you tried his bacon and sausages?
What makes The Handle Bar unique?
The ethos, the vibe, the staff.
Tell us about your new project, Le Bar!
When a small area of Bike Zone became available, it was natural for us to jump in it. Being at street level is pretty exciting. Also weekends at the Handlebar can be manic, having a little extension alleviates service. And where else can you go in Oxford for a quiet grown up drink? With dinner available just upstairs when you feel peckish?
How important is the local community to your business?
Massively!!! The only problem is how much of a local community we really have in the city centre. But we are working on it. All the businesses on St Michael Street are fab.
Talking about community, we have just joined the Magdalen road community [at 39 Magdalen Road next to Oli’s Thai] and whoa!!! What a strong knit of amazing residents and businesses alike!
Celine is an amazing business owner, full of energy, enthusiasm and boundless ideas for creating more unique, community focused spaces in Oxford. We are so thrilled to be able to support her through Independent Oxford, and look forward to see what she has in store for 2019!
Love, Rosie xxx