When Nick Pears and Matt Cottrill opened their first venture on a cold, dark January day , they had just ‘an espresso machine and a tray of doughnuts’ to get started.
The pals had wandered past an empty shop tucked away off Division Street, in a Grade II listed former silverworks factory, and fallen in love with the space: deciding it would be the location for their much-talked about dream coffee shop and putting a business plan together almost overnight. roping in friends to help.
Almost three years later, and Steam Yard has quite the following, not to mention a prestigious runners-up plaudit in Observer Food Monthly’s highly regarded awards.
“We wanted to give people great coffee in a relaxed welcoming space without the pretentiousness that sometimes surrounds coffee”, said Matt, who was a graphic designer and music promoter, while barista Nick had run his own coffee cart near Sheffield Hallam before the two teamed up.
“So, if you care about where those beans come from and how long they’ve been extracted, I mean, we can push our knowledge on coffee at an artisan level and we are more then happy to talk all day about it ,but only if your interested.
“On the other hand, if you just want a good cup of coffee and chat without the fuss you can have that too.
“We opened in January 2014 - it was cold, dark, obviously raining. But we had an espresso machine and a tray of doughnuts. We didn’t have anywhere near enough seats and hadn’t even really thought about staffing the shop, but we opened and people came. We learned fast!
“What ever you think you know about running a business like this, until you’re thrown in you don’t. To be honest three years in and every single day I think we learn something new about the business.”
It isn’t just coffee lovers who can appreciate this venue.To stand before its counter of tempting bakery is quite something - with brightly coloured macarons in neat rows, gigantic doughnuts topped with everything from marshmallows to popcorn, and there’s various out-there bakery hybrids too.
No surprise that customers voted in their droves for it to triumph in the OFM ‘cheap eats’ category - and you will struggle to spend over £20.
Matt added: “Just getting mentioned and being runner up in the OFM awards was unbelievable.
“We never expected it. “But for our customers to vote for us and let us know we’re doing something right, it means the world.
“Obviously getting awards is always nice, but it’s all about the customer and their experience. If they stop at the counter and let you know they really enjoyed their coffee, or comment on an Instagram post, or even send us a little message that they loved Steam Yard, then that’s what it’s all about really, and it makes all those long, long days worth while.”
There are plans afoot to expand the business, but the pair are staying tight-lipped about it, with more details to come via Instagram.
We arrived on a Saturday, thankful to squeeze into the last table left inside, and ordered from the very smiley waitress behind the bustling counter.
It’s an appealing place, cosy and warm, no pretentiousness or, crucially, long queues out the door.
There’s an Americana theme to the decor and menu - with local suppliers providing artisan products - and the aim is ‘simple, fresh and tasty’. Think bagels and brownies.
My grilled cheese sandwich (£4.50) fitted the brief.
There was crunchy toasted bread, as light as air, and a patchwork of three melted cheeses inside: hot, gooey, just salty enough.
It came with a sizeable pot of tart and spicy tomato with chilli chutney. The proper thick kind. It was the ideal cure to a few too many craft beers at Sentinel Brewhouse the previous evening.
Ellie had gone for the stateside classic Cuban sandwich - with thick cut gammon, and sweet-sour pickles in the doorstep style portion.
The main attraction was, of course, the dessert that started it all.
Depot Bakery in Kelham Island collaborates on the extensive doughnut menu - there’s one with ice cream, and another s’mores option stuffed with marshmallows - and the mesmerising combination of croissant and doughnut (or Kronut) comes from 4 Eyes Patisserie.
The popcorn kronut (£3.50) had rich buttery layers of a croissant shaped like a doughnut, delicately glazed, and topped with crunchy, sticky toffee popcorn. It was quite difficult to eat elegantly, but lighter than it sounds....
Her Snickers version was a sugar addict’s dream, with triangles of soft nougat, crunchy nuts and golden caramel - it was too tooth-tingling sweet for us to finish completely.We ended with Christmas-themed macarons (£1.80 each) from Joni’s in Walkley - perhaps it was cinammon, maybe eggnog, but the overall taste was of Christmas. With coffees - including picture-worthy art in the milk foam - we paid £24.70.
This is cheap, chic and cheerful eating at its best.
Steam Yard, Unit 1/2, Aberdeen Court, off Division Street, S1 4GW