Welcome to the second episode of our Meet the Family series, where we shine a spotlight on some of our wholesale customers. We caught up with Deri from The Warren to explore the space, learn about what it means to be a sustainably driven restaurant, and find out a bit about his work with Carmarthen LGBTQ+.
Situated in Wales’ oldest town and tucked down the quiet Mansel Street, The Warren is a beautiful cobbling of buildings, deceptively large but just as warm and inviting as you expect from first sight. The restaurant is filled with cosy corners and original art, mostly highlighting the beauty of foraged food or their signature rabbit.
As you move into the light, bright, yellow atrium-esque dining space, your eye is immediately drawn to the portraits of The Warren’s team members that adorn the walls. As Deri pointed and proudly told us each team member’s name, talents, job role and how long they’d worked at The Warren, we really felt that they were a family.
Deri opened The Warren in 2016 and has been feeding the people of Carmarthen delicious, local, sustainable, seasonal food ever since. His knowledge of growing, foraging and cooking is extensive, and hearing him talk about his passion for food made me so hungry, I booked a table for dinner after I left.
What inspires you?
So, so much inspires me. To begin with, our suppliers. I get really excited by championing them and using their produce. It’s very rewarding because I know it’s an incredibly difficult job to be an independent business in the growing industry, so it feels nice to support and promote them here. I wouldn’t want to do what I do if I didn’t have access to those fantastic ingredients.
Another thing that inspires me is working with a fantastic team that I ultimately end up learning a lot from because we’re all unique with different skill sets. Working alongside and growing with my team inspires me.
What else inspires me? Doing something that I think is for the better good. The restaurant is sustainably driven, which basically means, in an ideal world, it would be completely sustainable however that may look. But restaurants are quite an energy-consuming business, so I’m very conscious of that. One thing we’ve implemented is that we now run off 100% renewable gas and electricity, and have done for about three years. It costs a little bit more but it’s important that I know that if we have an oven on for 12 hours a day, we’re not adding to the world’s problems.
I’m very passionate about organic and regenerative produce; people doing things that might not tick the organic box, but are doing things that put the planet before profit. So that’s really inspiring, to be running somewhere where that ethos is at the forefront. Yes, we need to make money and pay our team well, but it wouldn’t be happening in the first place if it wasn’t for the other things.
What made you want to open The Warren?
A number of reasons. I was a chef and kept bouncing around different places, finding it really hard to set roots anywhere. Everywhere I went – Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Ireland, Bristol, Cardiff – I never felt at home. I just felt this draw to come back to Wales, but when I moved back to Cardiff found I couldn’t really set roots there either and I felt I really valued living closer to my family. They’re all from here.
I really valued their support in the first few years of this project; they helped me get this project off the ground. And they help sustain it by inviting their friends here, promoting it through their own networks of people, and having food with their friends here rather than eating somewhere else. My mum does all of the flowers here, foraging them on Wednesday mornings and changing them all over. She’s also the tip fairy, so she gives everyone their tips every week. So she’s got the two best jobs in the restaurant!
So that was a big draw to doing it here, family support. My dream was always to open a family restaurant. Originally I wanted it to be on my mum and dad’s farm, but this is the next best thing. A more realistic version.
Did you grow up on a farm?
Yes, I grew up on a smallholding, a 2 or 3-acre place with animals. They were pet animals; goats, geese, ducks, chickens, all of that. They weren’t farmed but that’s where my care for animals came from. If you’re going to eat them, they should be looked after and treated well.
My mum had a polytunnel, so she’d ask us to water it every so often and she’d grow vegetables for us to eat. At the time I didn’t appreciate it, of course, but after it wasn’t there anymore, I was like, where’s the homegrown spinach gone!?
That makes sense as to why you have such an appreciation for and focus on locally grown produce. You know the hard work it takes to farm, and to raise animals.
And it matters to me who is raising those animals. For instance, our pork farmer was in for Sunday dinner yesterday. She comes here with her partner for Christmas dinner and they bring their family along, so I know them. They’re kind people who are kind to their animals. Our beef supplier, Paul, has invited us and the team to the farm. We’ve been and met the cows and they all look incredibly healthy and vibrant. And I’ve seen the opposite, too—really tired, lethargic cows who are in pain. I understand why people block it out and just think, I just want some milk and to not know about everything that goes on. But I want to know.
What made you choose Coaltown?
It wasn’t a straightforward decision. I was already a customer of Scott’s; I’d been buying his coffee from year one of his business. Before I opened The Warren, I was running an outside catering farmer’s market business called The Ethical Chef. So I was doing vegan and vegetarian organic food, going round all different big festivals like Glastonbury which I did for a couple of years. I remember asking Scott if he wanted me to flog Coaltown at these events and he was like “yeah, definitely! Want me to build you an A board?” And he built this board for me and it was amazing, all hand-drawn with “Coaltown Coffee served here” written on it. I took it to festivals with me, selling Coaltown Coffee there; way before the Roastery.
But when it came to opening here, it wasn’t a case of definitely going with Coaltown. I wanted to make sure it was a sustainable, regenerative bean. And Coaltown isn’t an organic product. I wanted to go down the lines of organic-only, but I had an open conversation with Scott and the reasons he gave me for Coaltown not being organic were valid. And what Coaltown is doing is a way more regenerative way of sourcing the beans; if you know the farmer, where you’re getting your beans from and that your beans are high quality, that’s ten steps ahead of someone who isn’t doing that.
The local thing is a big part of it, too. Firstly, being able to send people to the Roastery is amazing. Nearly all of the team now have been to the Roastery. It’s hard to believe it exists, it’s the kind of Roastery I’d imagine seeing in New York City—and it’s in Ammanford! So if you do go there, your expectations will be triply exceeded. I guarantee you.
The knowledge that we have support very close by was important to me, too. I’ve driven up to the Roastery to pick up coffee because I’ve run out before.
The fact Coaltown is a B Corp is huge for me. That’s like the wax seal on the envelope for me. Being a B Corp proves to the world and anyone that knows about B Corps that Coaltown puts people and planet before profit. More and more of our suppliers are becoming B Corps, so that’s exciting. My opinion is that you should have to go through the B Corp process before setting up a business, because right now you could set up a business selling anything; for example, polystyrene throwaway straws that are horrific for the environment and go straight into landfill. Nobody would stop you, but if you went down the B Corp route, they wouldn’t allow it.
There’s not many restaurants that I know of that prioritise coffee the same way we do. And because we do, it brings people in for food. It’s quite extraordinary that coffee has that much of a draw to it.
What do you love the most about what you do?
That I never know what’s going to happen in my day. It requires me to be the best version of myself. I’m not saying I always am, but when I am, it’s very exciting living this life. I get up in the morning and check my inbox and don’t know what’s going to come through, like you guys asking me to talk about Coaltown and the LGBT community, or somebody asking me to cater an event or give me a talk. My mentality is… if it feels right, give it a go, try not to overthink it and don’t worry about things too much.
My ultimate goal of this place becoming a sustainable restaurant started on day 1 here. I signed up to The Sustainable Restaurant Association, which is an organisation like B Corp but for restaurants. That gives you a manifesto of all the things you need to do to become a sustainable restaurant, and you get rated and all of those things.
Three years down the line there was an award ceremony coming up and they asked if I’d be interested in putting myself forward for the Sustainable Chef of the Year award and I just thought, f*** it. See what happens. I got through the shortlist and was invited to the Troxy theatre. Raymond Blanc, a big celebrity Michelin-starred chef, was giving out the award.
They’d asked me to submit some photos, information about myself, why I thought I should win etc., so I turned up to the event and there were all of these walkway columns with pictures and this massive column with me on it and I thought; I might win this! I was up against these two other incredible chefs doing incredible things, and I thought, my story does sound incredible when it’s up on that board. And I thought, let’s see how it goes.
I was suffering from imposter syndrome at that time, thinking I shouldn’t be there and didn’t deserve it. Thankfully I was with a friend who was there for moral support who reminded me that if I were to win, I would have earned it. I did win and momentarily overrode the imposter syndrome, but I still felt I didn’t deserve it for easily two years after getting it. Now I’m like, of course I should have got that! But it took me a long time to understand that the work that I’d put in over the last 10 – 15 years was a result of it. Getting the award then opened up London to me and I started getting invited to events like Sustainable Development United Nations meetings and all of these huge sustainability events surrounding food. And I was the big deal there!
So that’s what’s exciting about my life. It’s like a rollercoaster. The more I start stepping into who I am and how I feel about myself, the more exciting opportunities start opening up. That imposter syndrome was linked with lots of other things in my life, which was holding me back from even allowing stuff like that to absorb into me.
Obviously, because that’s such a huge accolade, do you think that was the peak of it and do you still get imposter syndrome now?
It’s nowhere near as strong as it was then. I’m not saying it’s not going to come back, because people do give me different propositions for different jobs, like organising and hosting a cookery demonstration tent on a three-day event. In situations like that I immediately think of people who would do a better job, but then I think, they didn’t ask that person though, did they? They asked me.
What do you love the most about Carmarthen?
I love that I have a history here. I love that I’m giving back to the community and creating something that wasn’t here before, and adding to the offerings of Carmarthen.
Describe your relationship with coffee in three words.
My relationship with coffee is:
Connection – it seems to be a drink that you share with another person. Having a good coffee is really important.
Energy – many a time, it’s not until I’ve had that coffee that I get into the gear that I need to be in to take on the challenges of the day.
Taste – it tastes wonderful! It’s got such a complex and diverse flavour that there’s just so much to learn from. The taste can vary based on things like different altitudes and areas, who grew it, how it was roasted, how it’s ground and which barista brewed it. Taste is always something that’s everchanging and that you can always learn from.
What’s your go-to coffee order?
Probably an oaty flat white. I usually drink black coffee but when I go out, that’s the test coffee. I only want a little bit of milk so I can taste the coffee and not have too much to drink, but with a flat white, you can also see the latte art. I like that kind of strength and quantity and texture of milk. So that’s my go-to order.
Tell me a little bit about your work with Carmarthen LGBTQ+; for example, how did the partnership come about?
Many years ago, they were campaigning for the LGBTQ+ flag to be flown during pride month at the Carmarthenshire Council building. The council refused to put it up, stating that if they put the flag up, they’d have to put every flag up. Essentially, if they were to support our cause, they’d have to support other worthy causes!
So what Carmarthen LGBTQ+ did was got this massive flag and took it into the centre of town and did a huge protest, rolling out the flag and taking loads of pictures outside the castle. The group asked if they could come here afterwards to have lunch, celebrate and just meet up. That’s when our relationship was forged. We’d spent some time together beforehand and they knew we were a queer-friendly place, so we just decided to make it a regular thing. So we started doing our monthly brunches, reserving the place for anyone who wanted to turn up and have brunch, or just sit and have a coffee, or not buy anything at all. Just providing an open space for people.
We’ve done lots of things like quizzes to raise money, and we’ve built up a buffer to be able to pay for people to come here who wouldn’t be able to afford to otherwise.
What can people do to support/be better allies to the LGBTQ+ community?
Accept people for who they are and not try to change them or argue with them for them wanting to want to be referred to by certain pronouns, or wanting to change their name, or love someone and be open about it. It doesn’t really need to affect anyone else. So just to accept that love is love and if you don’t feel comfortable with it, that’s not their problem, that’s your problem.
I think also, just be kind to people. You don’t know what people’s lives have been like, you don’t know what’s happened to people in the past. It’s very naive and insensitive to think that everyone’s had the same upbringing as you, and I think that needs to be taken into consideration when you first meet someone; especially if you have any inclination about them being in that community.
Also, ask people how they’d like to be referred to. I know people worry about that first interaction and getting it right, but I think just ask.
I’ve definitely taken the stance of ‘they/them unless proven otherwise’ if I don’t know a person!
*laughs* My partner’s a they/them. It’s wonderful!
I spent a big part of my life, between the ages of 18 and 33, really, struggling with who I am and who I was attracted to. I really, really struggled. The biggest struggle of my whole life—much more difficult than running this restaurant.
Only within the last two years have I stepped into feeling completely comfortable with who I am, who I choose to spend my time with, and who I love. And it’s amazing. It’s really amazing to be in this part of my life now where I’ve grown to this stage. It’s through the LGBT community that this has happened. They’ve supported me in my journey and I’ve got to meet people from all walks of life and understand things a little more. I didn’t know anything about pronouns until they came here and started having brunches and somebody asked me what mine were. I was like, I don’t know what that means, and they were like, what gender are you? I thought it was obvious I was a man, and they said no, that’s not obvious. So I said, “I’m Deri and I’m a… him?” And they said “you’re he/him, then”.
That’s where it started! I was completely oblivious to this stuff and now I’ve made so many different friends with so many of the different Ls or Gs or Bs or Ts that I feel completely comfortable with all of them. It’s nothing to do with me who people are attracted to or in a relationship with. Just be kind!
What are you most excited about right now?
It’s actually a secret, at the moment.* I can’t really divulge.
The second thing I’m most excited about is getting to know some of the team members on their terms. The cost of living crisis has meant we don’t need as much of our team, but rather than cutting back, we’re doubling up; for example, going into outside catering and training up members of staff, like our kitchen assistant who’s been cooking with me on festivals and who I’ve got to know better than if we’d been here. He’s loved it and has asked me to ask him first if we have more events coming up!
Another example is Rhys who works Front of House. He asked for more hours but I didn’t have any to give him, so I said, why don’t you start painting and make some artwork for the restaurant? We always need art, and we can use it to make limited edition prints, put on products, sell greeting cards, put on t-shirts, whatever. Now he comes in and if it’s quiet, he paints, if it’s not, he works FOH. It’s been really quiet so he’s painting a lot. It’s great! Now I have two relationships with Rhys; one where he works here, and the other where we work together on these products. And, although I pay for his time, we go 50/50 on the sale of any artwork we sell. So that’s his incentive to make sure he gets the money he deserves from creating that piece of art, rather than just his wage, he gets what he deserves. But the longer we hold onto it, the more I believe it will go up in value, especially if this place takes off!
Ashleigh, who works Front of House and has been here one of the longest, set up a community ironworks company to teach people how to make things out of iron pouring. She’s an incredibly talented individual. Through lockdown it’s been difficult for her with funding and getting people to come to the projects. She’s part-time so we didn’t have many hours for her, so I was like, what can I get Ashleigh to do? And then I was at this event and I thought, oh my god, that fire cage looks amazing, so I got her to build one bespoke for me. It took her about three weeks to do and she gets paid her wage for that, which is about double what I pay her. So that’s bumped her up and probably kept her going for another two, three months. The story is amazing too because all of the team know that’s happening and have a massive buzz around it, she’s got a massive buzz around it, and people are asking me for her business card so much that I actually have started getting a commission on sales that I make for her!
So that’s what’s really exciting right now. Getting to work with the team and bring new ideas in. that’s really really exciting to me.
That’s so lovely, nurturing talents that they maybe didn’t know they had, or didn’t have time to further.
I think I just wasn’t utilising them. If they’re working here, the last thing I want to do is ask more of them! If Rhys is doing a 30-hour week, I don’t want to ask him to do another job on top of that. I feel like I’m always pushing, whereas I want people to ask me for opportunities. It can be a lot of pressure, your boss asking something of you. A lot of people would say yes rather than really thinking about it. But this is different as I ask if they’re interested in doing an extra project and then they can decide.
So that’s what’s exciting right now. The second thing, anyway.
Thank you so much Deri for talking to us and showing us around your beautiful space.
We highly recommend checking out The Warren for incredible food, cocktails, atmosphere and, of course, coffee; check out their website, or you can find them at 11 Mansel Street in Carmarthen.
If you’re considering joining the Coaltown family, you can put in a wholesale enquiry here.
* We can now reveal that the secret Deri alluded to is that he is currently developing a community kitchen & canteen in Carmarthen, to provide the local community with a place to go to for a nutritious, healthy, affordable and accessible meal. Opening August/September 2022—watch this space!
Such an inspiring article of empowerment and creativity! Plus I’ve discovered A place I didn’t know about and can’t wait to visit!
Thank you for such a beautifully written article x
I love reading these articles, it’s so nice to know about coaltown and it’s growth. Keep up the good work 😃