When Amy Jowers talks about cooking food, she lights up.
She’s clearly passionate about providing tasty meals, and loves nothing more than hosting customers, guests.
Amy is the woman behind Gutsy Girl and Co, one of a host of new food businesses which began to take Middlesbrough by storm during the Covid lockdown.
The smell of freshly baked cakes and pastries waft out of the kitchen as I grab 20 minutes to speak to Amy on another busy morning of preparation.
“The other Gutsy Girls in my life have influenced me and my food,” says the 35-year-old, who lives in South Bank with husband Andrew and young son Albie.
“I’m not one of those people who have a family heirloom book full of recipes.
“In my family, it was the experience of food that we valued. Our little traditions.”
Remembering the treats her family enjoyed, the holidays centred round food, Amy continued: “We were working class from South Bank, but we’d always get the best we could.”
Now, she’s trying to create those same traditions for her customers: “We want to do that by providing really good food, and being the best hosts too.
“One of our dishes, we do a cheese fried egg. It really reminded one of our customers of something their dad cooked them. I think it’s brilliant if you can evoke a memory.”
Amy said the food she serves in her café, at Studio 109 in Marton Road, was “gutsy, and happens to be made by a girl”.
Her adventure began as a “side hustle”, with supper clubs at the Ship Inn in Eston, before she took over the kitchen at 109 for takeaways during the winter lockdown at the start of the year.
She attracted a loyal following from customers desperate for home-cooked, decadent, wholesome food during a difficult time.
When restrictions began to lift, she opened the newly decked out café to customers for the first time.
“To see people finally come in was absolutely mind-blowing,” continued Amy.
“The first weekend we opened, it was dead emotional, especially seeing empty plates coming back.
“You could see couples sharing food and saying ‘taste that!’. It was fantastic.”
To Amy and her small team of staff, hospitality is everything. Her nana, she said, was a good cook but an even better hostess.
“It’s the experience that goes with it – that’s where my love of food comes from.
“In our supper club we had maybe 18 to 20 covers, it was like being in someone’s front room and that was the best thing, I think. It was an extension of coming to eat in our home.
“I want it to still feel exactly like that.”
Being in charge of her own destiny is clearly intoxicating.
“I was excited to get talking to someone and being able to say I have just opened a café. I am quite proud of that,” she smiles.
Gutsy Girl’s menu changes regularly – apart from its legendary bacon bun – and focuses on local suppliers “whose values match ours”.
“It is not always about price point,” said Amy. “If there’s something on the menu, it’s because I want my customers to eat it. We might not make a penny from it.
“We used lobsters from a father and son team in Redcar. I knew I wasn’t going to make much on it, but we wanted to use them.
“We get vegetables from someone who grows on Saltersgill allotments.
“We feature our suppliers on our social media, so our customers know the story behind it.
“With what we had from the allotment, we put an allotment meze on the menu which was incredible and really showed it off.”
Amy had worked in education and children’s safeguarding for around 15 years – but as Covid hit, the stress of the job hit “another level” and she decided she needed to do something else.
“This is a new type of stress, but it’s very different. You never switch off but you don’t want to switch off. Because it’s yours,” she continued.
“We are training our staff to understand this isn’t corporate, it’s an extension of our family.
“My family see less of me but I guess what they do see a happier version.”