“bringing the two together is unique” — mark husak, bundobustBack
From City Square you departed, to Bishopgate Street and the road to London, or the side entrance to the Queen’s Hotel, to luxury; from Boar Lane you ascended, up New Station Street to the elevated railways and the country beyond Leeds.
Or, from Boar Lane, you descended, beneath the railway and its Dark Arches, to the King’s Mills, to the polluted river, to Henry Scarbrough’s music hall; to Mill Hill.
“That was part of the charm for us,” says Mark Husak of Bundobust, the craft beer and Indian food bar that has brought the most eye-catching change to one of central Leeds’ shortest, steepest streets: the arrival of a joint venture between Bradford’s award winning Sparrow Bier Cafe, and Drighlington’s award winning Indian restaurant Prashad. “It’s a great location near the train station and near Trinity, but it’s still tucked away.
“It is a bit grimy, but even in the the last six months it has been rejuvenated. You’ve got The Griffin opening at the top, something nice is going to happen in Spencer’s, there’s the tattoo shop opposite. It had something about it like the Northern Quarter in Manchester or the East Village in New York, where there are good businesses on the street but it’s all a bit grotty and tucked away. I like that, where you have to work to find something, rather than being on the main road.”
The lift in Mill Hill’s fortunes could be put down to a Trinity Effect, and the shopping centre’s presence has definitely changed Boar Lane. When opening an independent bar in an unfancied location, though, Mark sought the ripple from a different effect, one with contours that connect Laynes Espresso, The Brewery Tap, Tapped, and Friends of Ham.
“Since Friends of Ham expanded they’ve had their busiest weekends ever, and we’ve had our busiest weekends too, so it shows that if one of us is busy then the others are as well. We’ve worked closely with them and with Tapped, we’re all friends and we’re finding that people are bouncing between us all. If people support one they tend to support them all and do a bit of a tour. It’s nice to be next to similar minded businesses.”
Although the reputations of the streets might go before them – and New Station Street still hasn’t made it to Google’s Street View – the food and drink businesses in the area have made their mark by completely stepping away from what came before. Leeds Brewery opened their pub in a former photographic studio, Laynes in part of a hairdressers; Friends of Ham did have a foodie precedent as a noodle bar, but have now swallowed up a cash loans shop; Bundobust was for a long time Mill Hill’s Amusement Arcade.
“When you build something up from scratch, it’s new,” says Mark. “You’re not inheriting someone else’s reputation. You could take over a closed pub but then it’s associated with its history – this is like a clean start.”
Bundobust isn’t the first bar Mark has built up by finding a place and changing its course. It arrived in Leeds billed as a satellite project of Bradford’s Sparrow Bier Cafe, a former bridal shop that since opening in 2011 has overturned the notion that Leeds’ sister city had nowhere good to drink. Thanks to growth zone funding and The Sparrow’s rosy good health, it’s now being joined on North Parade by more independent businesses.
“There were plenty of empty pubs in Bradford city centre, but we wanted to do our own thing, so no one had any preconceptions of what it was about,” says Mark. “Me and my business partner, Les Hall, are both passionate Bradfordians, but Bradford was a bit on its arse. We knew loads of good people lived there, but they went to Leeds or Halifax to socialise or eat out. So we wanted to create a little bar for the people who like beer in Bradford, with a bit of a European atmosphere and influenced by bar in Leeds like North Bar – there was no reason why Bradford couldn’t have a bar like that.
“It was a quiet part of town when we opened, but there’s more opening on our street now: there’s a brewery opening, a new ale house, a cocktail bar, another cafe bar and record shop; in six months there will be five bars in that area, which hopefully will bring more people in and benefit us all.”
For all the bars already in Leeds, the quality of The Sparrow is such that people travel over to Bradford just to drink there, and a Leeds branch would have been welcomed with open arms. That was never in Mark’s mind, though.
“I think if The Sparrow opened in Leeds it’d be just another bar,” says Mark. “Or if Prashad had opened in Leeds it’d be just another Indian restaurant, even though it’s a very different cuisine. Bringing the two together is unique.
“Prashad got in contact with us at The Sparrow on Twitter, asking if we wanted to do a joint beer and curry pairing dinner. We’d been thinking about contacting them about the same thing anyway, and the events we did together sold out very quickly.
“We always wanted to do something else apart from The Sparrow, but didn’t really think about coming to Leeds on our own because we didn’t have the resources. But Prashad wanted to expand too so we had a chat with Mayur and his family and just said, why don’t we do this together?”
From idea to opening is never an easy journey, and while choosing to open in a venue with no prior history for food or drink means you don’t have to deal with anybody’s prior reputation, it also means you have to do a lot of cleaning to get your new slate ready. Although Bundobust was from its conception about four walls and a roof, and about a kitchen, tables and a bar, while those elements came together, it became about the streets, and other people’s kitchens.
“There were some secrets in this building,” says Mark. “Not nasty stuff, but things we were hoping for didn’t exist. We were a bit worried, because at first we wanted to get open quick, but we also wanted to do it right.
“A lot of work was done between me and Mayur to get all the old plaster off the brick walls, rip out the carpet and get rid of all the junk and see what we had. Then Andrew Keir of Curiosity Allotment worked with us on ideas and helped us shape the look.
“It was very hectic, because during the week we were working on this place, and then at weekends we were doing events and pop-ups, so there were no days off. But doing that helped us build a fanbase and a reputation – the idea was not to make money as such, but to use it as marketing to get our name out there. It got the point when everyone was asking at events, ‘When are you opening? When are you opening?’, and we were like… we don’t know! But we got there in the end.”
The pop-up diversions along the path to Bundobust the place didn’t only allow people to become familiar in advance with the concept of Indian street food paired with craft beers, but meant Mark and Mayur could learn themselves about what they were trying to do.
“We did a lot of roadtesting while we were waiting to open,” says Mark. “Every time we did an event we did two different dishes to see what the customers liked or didn’t like. We did events at the Bridge Inn at Kirkstall, and we did a three-day kitchen takeover at Belgrave Music Hall that was just fantastic. It was really busy, and we really cemented the concept at the Belgrave. It was the first time we served in these biodegradable pots made from vegetable starch with our stamp on them, and it refined the idea for us of using these sharing pots as a kind of Indian tapas, so people could order two or three different ones instead of one large plate of curry.”
That concept is key in keeping the atmosphere in Bundobust relaxed; neither the decor, the presentation or the staff shout about the food on offer in what is, first and foremost, a bar; but the proof is in the takings, which are showing a 50/50 split on the food and the beer.
“You can come in for a meal, you can come in for a snack, you can come in for a drink,” says Mark. “You can be here for ten minutes or stay for two hours.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised – we didn’t know how people would take to it, to be honest, but we’re very happy with the percentage split. There aren’t many bars doing that. It shows that the food and the beer are just as important as each other.”
The name Bundobust is taken from the Hobson-Jobson Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, published in 1896; and although it’s no longer in use, the word’s loose definition of tying or binding together perfectly suits the bar’s attitude of creating perfect pairs. Put Prashad and The Sparrow together and you can put a tub of salty, crunchy Okra Fries with a chilli and mango-infused pint of Kirkstall Three Swords from the bar-top randall; a Bundo Chaat – a deconstructed veggie samosa in a pot – can team up with a glass of Bundobust, the house coriander pilsner.
They’re all junctions, joining points: England and India, Leeds and Bradford, Mill Hill and Boar Lane; food and drink, thirst and hunger, and junctions are always the busiest places.
“It’s weird, because we haven’t really had time to enjoy it ourselves yet,” says Mark. “We’re working hard, but we’re happy with how things are going. We’ve only been open three months so there are still things we need to tighten up, but we do hope to expand.
“I feel like The Sparrow is unique, and there can only ever be one Sparrow. But I think Bundobust is something that could be scaleable, and become a small independent chain of three or four. Possibly Manchester, but the ultimate dream is to be in London – that is the ultimate dream in terms of the restaurant and food world, and where we’d like to be. We’ll see.”
From Boar Lane to Bishopgate Street; to London, New Station Street, or Mill Hill: from Boar Lane you can go wherever you want.
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 18