A New Future for Sheffield’s Italian Express
Sheffield Unchained contributor Emma Wells investigates the story behind Italian Express in Walkley and discovers plans for a new lease of life.
Sheffield’s original Italian takeaway opened on South Road, Walkley, about 4 years ago and Kym Hall, 33, is the businesswoman who first helped launch it. With a background in sales and marketing, she assisted the original owner to develop the menu and promote the business. Kym explains:
It was completely new to Sheffield – an Italian takeaway – and it worked really well.
Kym subsequently moved away for work, but recently her father, who is Italian and has lived in Sheffield for over 20 years, discovered the business was for sale and asked if she would like to go into partnership with him. After investigating the market, they decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up. So Kym has moved back to Sheffield and the pair joined forces, but not for the first time:
We’ve worked together for many years; I grew up working with my father in Dino’s on London Road. From the age of 12, I was waitressing and doing desserts in my parents’ restaurant.
Italian Express has a great foundation of customers, so we want to build from that. It is ticking along fine, but I want to elevate it to the next level.
Traders sticking together is important and we try to buy local.
Walkley seems to have a strong sense of community among both traders and residents, as Kym observes:
Walkley is massively up and coming; it goes in cycles, like for London Road, Ecclesall Road and Abbeydale Road; and Walkley is the next ‘place to go’
A source of pride for the Italian Express team is the work they are doing to support local charities and the community around them. On Monday and Tuesday nights, 10% of profits will go to Sheffield-based charity Cavendish Cancer Care, which Kym says ‘helps us and them’. Italian Express will be hosting a coffee morning to support the charity at the end of September.
Kym has also teamed up with Jenny Swift from Pending Coffee, to support an initiative whereby a customer can buy two coffees but only take one. Kym explains;
Then homeless or disadvantaged people can pop in and say ‘Have you got any pending coffees going?’ and we give them a coffee that’s paid for. There are lots of homeless people, it’s just that you don’t see them during the day. We’re open ‘til 11pm so it’s nice for them to pop in and it can keep them warm for the evening.
She also tells me that part of Italian Express’ ethos is…
…to do anything to help the community, it’s not just about us taking, it’s about giving back wherever possible.
From October, Italian Express will be open in the daytime on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and Kym hopes this will contribute to the ‘buzz around Walkley’. She wants the business to be known as a coffee house as well and says:
We do serve fantastic coffee; it’s original Italian. We want people to explore the real authentic Italian feel here.
Part of this involves changes to the interior, to include photography and displays of Italian products such as oils and pastas. I ask Kym about the new menu which will be launched on 6th October, and she tells me:
The inspiration has been purely Italian! If there is something we like we try to put it on the menu, because if we like it, we think other people will.
Kym’s father, who is from Sorrento, is currently touring the Amalfi Coast for ideas for the menu, including researching gluten-free pizza bases.
The main menu will be tweaked but not changed significantly, although Kym is considering replacing spaghetti with linguine:
It’s my favourite pasta, but people do like spaghetti – I think linguine is so much nicer though!
There will also be a ‘strict vegetarian menu’, and an under-500 calorie menu. Kym explains:
People are more health conscious now so we want to make it easier for them to pick up a menu and say ‘Oh I can have this because it’s within my healthy eating regime’.
A weekly specials board is also planned, which customers will be able to receive each week by email if they sign up.
Italian cuisine has distinct regional variations, and I ask if this will be reflected in the new menus. Kym believes:
People are becoming more educated on types of food. We stick to regions, for example, with different pastas and the sauces that go with them.
My Dad is true to his roots; he goes home at least five times a year and cooks with his Mum. All these things that are authentic Italian – people probably look at the front of the shop and come in but don’t understand everything that goes on behind and into the dishes’.
I ask how she plans to promote the authenticity of the food and she explains that a new website is being developed which will include recipes and blog spots, for instance on how to make ‘brilliant coffee’, plus information about Kym and her Dad.
On the subject of recipes, I ask Kym what the most popular dishes on the current menu are, and she tells me it varies a lot. The previous night, pollo porcini – chicken breast cooked in cream, onion, garlic, white wine and porcini mushroom – had proved particularly tempting: ‘we served about seven portions!’ Pasta alfredo – a creamy chicken, with onions and mushrooms – is also popular, as are the arancini rice balls.
I ask what Kym’s favourites are and she tells me that she is vegetarian, and the chef makes a special dish for her called Uova Fiorentina, which is spinach, garlic, tomato, and egg, topped with cheese and grilled. This will be featuring on the new menu, as will stuzzichini, which is a ‘sharing platter of starters including bruschetta, arancini, and a flavour of other items from the menu’. Kym comments that if a customer requests something specific and they have the ingredients in stock they will make it. A recent creation was spinach and ricotta tortellini with porcini mushroom sauce. Kim says:
We tried to do it under 500 calories but it creeps over, so it will go on the vegetarian menu.
In charge of the kitchen team is head chef Sam, who has been at Italian Express ‘since day one and has helped with consistency’, something Kym notes has been important for regular customers. The team also includes pizza chef Christina, Kym’s cousin, on pot washing duty and her sister helping with deliveries, as well as a number of regular delivery drivers. Kym explains that there is a family-orientated philosophy to the running of the business, something she is proud of.
The loyal customer base which Italian Express has built over the last four years is very much valued, and Kym says:
We want to give back to customers as much as possible.
This includes several offers, such as a free bottle of wine for orders over £30, and a free tiramisu for mentioning them on Twitter or Facebook.
It’s clear that Kym and the team have big ambitions, and she tells me:
I’m always looking for the next thing so our eyes are open for the next Italian Express.
But for now, the focus is on making sure the business is running efficiently before looking to expand. Kym concludes by telling me:
We’re a genuine family business, and we want to be a good news story for Sheffield.
The new menu and Italian Express website will be officially launched on 6th October, and you can stay up to date on Twitter and Facebook. Follow this link to find Italian Express on the SU Listings App and website.