A growing restaurant business in Workington

Welcome Back Fund - funded by ERDF

The Garden aims to bring a city vibe to West Cumbria – in colourful, quirky style. Ashleigh and Paul McGee don’t do things by half. They welcomed a new baby and a new restaurant to their growing business empire, and didn’t even let a pandemic put them off.

The Garden, their newest venture, grew out of the couple’s existing food businesses in Workington – Henry’s Bar and Grill and The Hungry Caterpillar chain of cafes.

The Hungry Caterpillar began with a café and takeaway in Finkle Street, then shops in Whitehaven, Keswick and Cockermouth, as well as a meal preparation service, delivering nutritionally-balanced menus to homes across West Cumbria.

They’ve since expanded into bigger premises, taking on a former pub in Finkle Street, and then opened The Garden bar and restaurant in Washington Square shopping centre in the summer of 2021.

“The original Hungry Caterpillar premises were a tiny little café,” says Ashleigh “We only had seven tables before we moved into the old Bounty pub premises but the demand was absolutely insane. We wanted to do a healthy food café, that was the main reason for setting it up, and we had created something niche.”

But the couple knew there was more they could offer in terms of food and drink – and their next project was The Garden, located in what had been a clothes store, right in the heart of the pedestrianised shopping centre.

Ashleigh adds: “Paul had always been looking at the building in Washington Square – he has the wild ideas and I’m the sensible one – but we both said we could bring the city vibe to the town.”

They’ve gone all out on the colourful interior design, with flower walls, rustic pergolas and fun fake foliage on the seating booths to really bring The Garden’s theme to life. And it’s more than just a restaurant – it’s an all day foodie experience. They serve breakfasts, there’s a cocktail menu and they’re hosting live bands and DJ sets at the weekend.

During the day, the quirky venue’s menu is similar to The Hungry Caterpillar, but at night it changes to include more restaurant-style options, all created by Head chef Luke Hewitson.

“The evening is completely different,” says Ashleigh. “It’s a classier night time menu.

“Daytime or night time, it is a completely different dining experience – The Hungry Caterpillar model allows you to customise your own food. That healthy menu is at the core of everything but we’ve added jacket potatoes and pizza and some naughtier food at night.

“It’s going brilliantly. We did 250 meals one day, and 170 at night – it felt like Christmas week! We are getting a lot of big bookings and the age range is from one end of the spectrum to the other. The teenagers come in for a pizza, while older people come for a three course meal and a nice glass of wine.

“It’s just what we wanted to create. We wanted a place that everyone could come to and be comfortable.” And the team are now seeing people travelling to the town to try their restaurant fare.

“We are seeing lots of people from other areas,” says Ashleigh. “It is really drawing people in at night for a chilled out drink and something to eat.” And Ashleigh says there’s no better place to be than Cumbria and Allerdale: “It’s the community.

“In other parts of the country, if you walk down the street and smile at someone, they just look at you. Here, they want to stop and talk. That’s what makes it brilliant. I can’t believe how lucky we are to be here.”

The Garden Bar & Restaurant – Washington Square, Workington