“Yes Lah is the combined dream of what Yen and I love doing – feeding people. And if we get to do so by sharing our culture and heritage then that’s even better.– Zosima ‘Mama Z’ Fulwell
Living as we currently do in an age where all this *gestures vaguely towards the news and the outside world* feels utterly rotten a lot of the time, when word reaches you that not one but two of the hardest working, most vibrant and exciting chefs in town are not only collaborating on a new project together, but that it will also be a permanent residence of their very own, a wave of elation overcomes you so ferocious you’ll feel as though you could karate kick through a solid brick wall. Much like the energy that is channeled from hearing the opening riff of ‘Man I Feel Like A Woman’ by Shania Twain.
So when Zosima ‘Mama Z’ Fulwell and Woks Cluckin’s Yen Tham announced last Saturday that they were moving into their own spot in Didsbury, the entire Manchester hospitality community responded with a wholehearted deluge of support, spreading the news far and wide. All weekend, instagram stories and Twitter timelines mirrored each other with countless people sharing the announcement, both thrilled for Zos and Yen and chomping at the bit to discover more about what they have planned for their new unit in Didsbury.
It is a dream that has been a long time coming, as Zos told EATMCR earlier this week.
“Yes Lah was in the pipeline for a while, ever since Yen and I met. We met at Hatch during our summer residency there in 2018 and have since then worked together doing supper clubs, helping each other out at each of our events and ultimately just became like family.
“For years we always spoke about what we wanted to do and before we knew it was Yes Lah, we always knew we wanted a space to combine our favourite things. Yen has a real passion for baking and this works well with our menu and concept as I love all the savoury things.
“Working around the city we felt there was a gap in the market in what we wanted to offer, especially by being able to bring together the incredible people and makers we have met along the way. Our collaborative supper clubs always played homage to our heritage and they were amazing. When we were out together working it just became natural that we came as a pair so in a sense it was fitting for us to go into business together.
“When we would be out trading at different street food gigs, we would always brainstorm and laugh loads about all the mad ideas we would want to do. Finally, 5 years on, we have taken the plunge and it’s so exciting!“
So now the news is out there, what should we be expecting from Yes Lah when it opens later this year?
“Yes Lah is a space we want to be for everyone. Expect not only great Filipino and Malaysian inspired food on the menu, but also different ESEA (East and South East Asian) flavours we want to shout about.
“Flavours such as Pandan and Ube in our coffee and Yen’s tasty baked treats, to sambal, noodles and great flavourful fresh lunches you can grab to take away or sit in. We don’t want to give too much away but it will be an amalgamation of all of our favourite things and what we love to eat and drink, so hopefully those who visit us will also love it as much as we do.”
Not content with Yes Lah operating as solely a café however, Zos and Yen will also provide a retail offering with an onsite shop where diners and customers can source the produce with which to replicate their favourite Filipino and Malaysian dishes at home.
“We really want to work with great local suppliers, growers and makers, having a small retail offering on site for people to be able to grab ingredients to make dishes at home or even a last minute gift for a loved one. We have some fabulous makers in mind to stock at our shop and that ranges from amazing independent food products that we love and have tried along the way, to the fresh and dry ingredients you might have to go to larger Asian supermarkets or China Town to get.
“We want Yes Lah to be a place for people to be able to pick up those ingredients so they can create Asian dishes at home. If we don’t have those ingredients in, we want it to be a space where you can ask and we can try and help.
“We know it can be challenging recreating dishes, or a bit intimidating asking in big shops, to feeling overwhelmed with different ingredients, so we want to bridge that gap for people and hopefully be able to help you with what you are looking for.
And, as if running a café and shop isn’t enough, there will also be cooking classes, supper clubs and workshops on the schedule for Yes Lah.
“As I love to do cooking classes I am excited to use Yes Lah as a base to do them whilst also allowing other great makers to use the space for workshops or supper clubs. We are so excited to be able to give that platform to others. Workshops and supper clubs are a great way to learn, to explore different cuisines and connect the things happening in the city. I love how events like this bring the community together and we really feel that Yes Lah will be a fantastic space to do this.
“Expect our hospitality at Yes Lah as we want everyone to feel at home. Oh, and also expect to hear Yen’s amazing loud and infectious laugh. It’s really hard to not love it and laugh along with her too.“
As with all new ventures, however, the road to Didsbury was far from straightforward. The original site for Yes Lah was initially located in Stockport, but after six months of being messed around by the building owners, the deal fell through and a new spot needed to be secured. Fortunately, south Manchester delivered and within the next few months, should be home to some of the most sublime South East Asian cooking in the country.
Before then though, things are going to get well and truly kickstarted this evening, when Yes Lah’s Kickstarter goes live.
Both Zos and Yen have kept full details of the Kickstarter pledges under wraps for the time being, building anticipation, much like when there’s a new (non Affleck) Batman film on the horizon or an upcoming Pusha T album is about to drop, with a couple of sneak peeks as to what will be available for those who wish to invest.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say it is by far one of the most nerve wracking things we both have ever done” Zos reveals, “but for being such a small business funding most of it ourselves, it’s literally everything we have going into this and a kickstarter to help us along the way would just be amazing. I have seen the fantastic opportunities that these platforms can give to businesses, and if they create more jobs and do great things for a location then I am all for it.
“I have pledged to some cracking kickstarters, large or small, and being able to help someone’s dream come true is just the best. Saying that, we have been really thoughtful about our kickstarter and really want to give fantastic pledges for people to come and enjoy Yes Lah in different aspects of the space. We want people to have lots of great things to look forward to or to enjoy, just as we have loved when we have pledged ourselves to other kickstarters. Expect workshops, supper clubs, food items and other great things to pledge for.”
But with their dreams so close to becoming a reality, what has been the most difficult part of the journey for Zos and Yen en route to reaching their destination?
“Probably having the balls to do it and taking the plunge. We are only small and literally starting from the ground up, again, so it’s a scary thought when you have never had a site before. Obviously money is also another factor but I suppose being messed around for six months at the last minute with our original site wasn’t ideal.
“We had been looking for a space and found a site since the start of September last year. Due to covid and building work among other things out of our control, we then found after six months of basically waiting that our site got given to someone else. It really was a kick in the teeth at the time because we could of been doing other things but it was just something we unfortunately couldn’t plan for.
“I think the worst was literally the unknown of not taking on events in the anticipation of being in the original space, or planning ahead with work because we literally didn’t know when we would get the call about the building. To be honest, I don’t think the landlord understood the concept of Yes Lah but in hindsight, we both feel that our site in Didsbury is a much better fit and as corny as it sounds, everything happens for a reason lah!
“The rising costs of everything after Covid is very stressful and doesn’t help when it comes to doing something so big for us like this, but, we have worked so hard and wanted this for so long that it just felt like the right step. It’s the biggest risk that we have ever taken, but it’s the best risk too!“
So, with only a few hours to go until the Kickstarter drops at 6pm and those pledges start rolling in, what is Zos most excited about on this next stage of the Yes Lah adventure?
“I am most excited about curating the space, the menu, shop playlist and just getting stuck in. Yen just absolutely loves baking so she is probably itching to feed everyone her amazing bakes. I really can’t wait to just welcome old and new customers in our new space and have everyone enjoy it. We really can’t wait to settle into our new neighbourhood in Didsbury and already feel so welcome next to our lovely neighbours in the area. We are so overwhelmed with the support already so far, it’s genuinely just made us so happy we want to pinch ourselves with excitement.
“It’s still so surreal but honestly I am just so glad I can finally shout about it now because it was the biggest secret for so long I’ve ever had to keep!“
And now the secret is out, are we excited for a dynamic duo of South East Asian chefs to be opening their ultimate passion project after years of serving up some of Manchester’s most sensational street food? FUCKING YES LAH