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Taste of success

In 2009 Tom Naylor Leyland embarked on a mission to transform Malton into a foodie destination. Ten years on he might also have just discovered a way to save the Great British High Street.

T here is something unashamedly old fashioned about Tom Naylor Leyland. The 37-year-old, whose family own half of Malton, dresses like a country gent, likes nothing better than browsing vintage shops and antique stalls and is a passionate advocate of vinyl.

“My taste in music starts in 1950 and ends in 1978,” he says slightly apologetically, offering by way of explanation that 1978 was the year the synthesiser went mainstream so changing the face of music forever.  “I know, it’s very old school, but I can’t help it.”

We are talking music because Tom recently announced the launch of a new summer festival for Malton and while he’s unlikely to be overly dogmatic those 28 years will form the basis of the laidback soundtrack.

“We are not talking Glastonbury, we are talking something small, something boutique, something very Malton.”

He might be deliberately downplaying the scale of the event,  but the festival will be the latest chapter in Tom’s mission to reinvent Malton which began with similarly modest intentions 10 years ago.

Back in 2009, the future wasn’t looking bright for the North Yorkshire market town. Many of the shops were struggling to survive, others had already shut their doors and when that same year plans for a giant Tesco were unveiled it seemed like the final nail in the coffin. 

“We knew we had to give people a reason to come to Malton and food seemed to be the obvious focus,” says Tom. “I’d spent a few years living in London and every time I went to Borough Market I would see people promoting the brilliant Yorkshire produce they were selling.

“It just struck me that if they were championing it down there, we should really be shouting more about it up here. There was no guarantee that it would work, but a food festival felt like a good way to test the water.”

The late Antony Carluccio was among the guests at the inaugural Malton Food Lovers Festival and with typical Italian bravado promptly declared the town was the Food Capital of Yorkshire. Not everyone though shared his conviction.

“I remember Dennis who runs the pet shop turning to me and saying, ‘Why does it have to be food capital of Yorkshire, why can’t we make Malton the pet shop capital of Yorkshire?’”

Dennis had a point. While the festival had attracted 1,500 or so visitors, he and the other shopkeepers knew it would take more than one event to reverse Malton’s fortunes. Tom though had a few more tricks up his sleeve.

“We all had the same aim, which was to see the town come alive again. On the back of the festival we launched a monthly food market, but the real key was getting businesses to actually move into town.

“We didn’t want people to just open a shop here, we wanted them to move their production here. That was a big ask. Most food production companies are based on out of town industrial estates for a reason.”

A former coach house was turned into production units and thanks in no small part to Tom’s powers of persuasion the businesses did come. Now Talbot’s Yard is home to an ice cream company, a coffee roastery, a gin distillery and a master macaron maker and the main market square is a hub of artisan bakers and cafes. 

This year, Talbot’s Yard mark two will open on the other side of town and the annual festival where it all began now runs over two days, boasts 180 stalls and attracts 30,000 visitors. There is a lot to be proud of, but Tom admits it hasn’t been as seamless as it might appear.

Among the early landmarks was the reopening of the Talbot Inn Hotel with Malton’s own James Martin announced as executive chef. Landing the Saturday Kitchen chef was a bit of a coup, but in hindsight Tom admits they didn’t get it quite right.

“When you make a mistake I think you should have the courage to admit it,” he says. “Lots of people loved the Talbot, it was a place where you brought your parents, but it didn’t quite fit with what were trying to do with the rest of the town. It was just, well, a little too stuffy.”

Martin stepped down in 2015 and after ticking along for the last few years, the Talbot has recently been given a refit, ditched the Hotel from its name in order to make it feel a more welcoming, less formal space and welcomed new managers.

“Sam and Georgie Pearman, who previously ran The Lucky Onion family of hotels, pubs and restaurants in the Cotswolds, are now at the helm and it feels like a great match. I like to think the Talbot has taken its tie off.”

he Stew and Oyster has just opened in the old Town Hall building and Tom is in discussion with a number of other businesses keen to share the revival.

“Now it’s about making sure we get the balance right,” he says. “There’s no point in us having half a dozen chocolatiers in one street or saying yes to every artisan baker. I always knew that when we started on this journey, it was about the long game.

“However, we have always been true to our principles of supporting quality independent businesses. That philosophy I hope has paid off and gives a little hope to high streets everywhere.”

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