Cafe’s family circle

Nick Dunn, new owner of the Forge Dam Caf�, 'Fulwood.
Nick Dunn, new owner of the Forge Dam Caf�, 'Fulwood.

IN some ways, Nick Dunn was born to run one of Sheffield’s best known cafes, tucked away on the city’s green boundary.

His grandparents had the lease on Forge Dam cafe in Fulwood for 27 years, and his mother started to give birth to him while she was living in the cottage next door.

Now the cafe - a cherished no frills location for families, dog walkers and strollers on the Round Walk - is back in the family’s hands.

At the age of 40, Nick has opted to leave the insurance business to take over the traditional timber-framed cafe, next to the River Porter, which was famously referenced in a Pulp song by Sheffield singer and writer Jarvis Cocker.

And Nick’s customers will no doubt be delighted to hear that he is not intending to make any major changes to the operation other than to add a few healthier options and some home cooking to the basic menu.

“There are a lot of regular and loyal customers, even though there are no signs for this place,” said Nick. “You wouldn’t know it was here, but it is busy, especially at weekends. There seems to a lot of affection for it, and everybody is saying ‘Don’t change anything’.”

Nick’s grandparents, Charles and Jean Chapman, were familiar figures behind the counter until 17 years ago when the lease was taken by Alan and May Young.

On their departure, Nick was determined to return to where he used to help out during his school holidays, taking a significant change of career.

“It’s a proper midlife crisis!” he said. “I did the usual university route, then went into financial services. Six months ago I was managing director of an insurance business, but when this chance came up I jumped at it.

“We have gone full circle and got it back in the family.”

Nick was born in Claremont Hospital after his mum’s waters broke when she was in the cottage next door to the cafe. Parents Valerie and David Dunn are currently helping out in the cafe while Nick finds his feet.

“My grandad still comes down every Friday. He lives up the hill and is still going strong at 86. This is where I used to visit my grandparents so it has always been in my life.”

The cafe reputedly used to be Walkley Methodist Hall before it was dismantled and brought down to the valley bottom at Forge Dam on a horse and cart in the 1930s.

Major repairs were made by the council a couple of years ago - with a brief of making improvements while maintaining the character of the building.

Not a lot appeared to have changed other than another 50 years being added to its lifespan.

Customers have included Jarvis Cocker, who wrote the Pulp song Wickerman on a laptop in the cafe:

‘Yeah, the river flows on beneath pudgy fifteen-year olds addicted to coffee whitener

And it finally comes above ground again at Forge Dam: the place where we first met.

I went there again for old time’s sake

Hoping to find the child’s toy horse ride that played such a ridiculously tragic tune.

It was still there – but none of the kids seemed interested in riding on it.

And the cafe was still there too

The same press-in plastic letters on the price list and scuffed formica-top tables.’

Nick plans to open the cafe every day from 9am, with the exception of Christmas Day, sticking to a tried and tested menu that features the likes of bacon sandwiches, bacon and eggs and chips, with a few additions.

“It works well, but there is more of a healthy choice and home-made cooking such as cakes, scones and mince pies, which have flown out of the door so far. There will also be home-made soup and quiches.”

Meanwhile, he welcomes plans by the voluntary group, the Friends of the Porter Valley, to desilt Forge Dam, leaving a small island for wildlife, and to generally spruce up the area. An initial fundraising target has been set of £360,000.

Nick is commuting at present from Leeds, but is looking to moving with five-year-old daughter Macy, who will have a key role in the family business.

“She will come to the cash and carry with me and choose which sweets to sell, and she will taste the ice cream ...”

A Christmas activity day will be held at Forge Dam on Saturday, December 15.