Multimedia story of Cheadle's legendary Premier Cafe
(The extremely stylish Premier cafe and bakery was located next to the George and Dragon pub on Cheadle High Street in the middle years of the 20th Century and attracted customers from across South Manchester and Cheshire)
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Story of the Premier cafe by Alan Jabez (written in 2009)
In the middle years of the 20th Century, while London had the Savoy, Paris the Ritz and New York the Waldorf Astoria, many local people believed the nearest equivalent in Cheadle was the supremely elegant Premier Cafe.
Located on the High Street between the George and Dragon pub and the HSBC bank, the interior of this building is now one of Cheadle's best kept secrets as it still retains much of the colourful art deco furnishings from the days when they were installed more than 75 years ago.
These days, the establishment is a charity shop, run by St. Ann's Hospice, but for anyone with a long memory, they will recall it as a hugely popular culinary outlet which began offering high-quality bread, meals and wonderful cakes from the end of the 1920s onwards.
The innovative business was the brainchild of August Wienholt, whose family hailed from Germany in the middle years of the 19th Century, and who had a vision to bring high-quality mid European confectionery with accompanying style and panache to the Manchester suburbs.
The Wienholts were bakers and when they took over the property it was an existing bakery called Oldhams -albeit in a run down condition.
At the beginning, August and his wife Margaret, along with several of their five children, lived in the rooms above the shop to minimize their outgoings and work as hard as they could to get the business established.
The first room they refurbished was the ground floor which became the shop, and from here -served by a small bakery in the back- they would sell their bread and assorted cakes to a large number of Cheadle families.
After a time, they constructed a larger building on Ashfield Road which became the main bakery and also built a connecting corridor so the food could quickly be carried from one building to the other.
The larger and more modern premises enabled them to increase the quantity and variety of cakes they produced. The most popular were vanilla slices, Eccles cakes, fresh cream cakes, strawberry tarts, sponges, fruitcakes and all had a distinctive Continental style and were very reasonably priced.
To complement the bakery and the cake shop, the family, who had also built their own home in Ashfield Road, opened their own stylish restaurant and cafe in the rooms above the shop. An impressive staircase at the back took the diners upstairs where as many as 35 people at a time could enjoy everything from a hearty lunch to a sumptuous afternoon tea and huge selection of quality cakes.
Diners at the front had the added bonus of being able to sit by the large bay window which gave a panoramic view of the High Street below.
Inevitably, all the waitresses wore bespoke uniforms and were all always immaculately dressed. The crockery was also the finest China and the Premier Cafe name and logo was emblazoned on almost everything. In addition, the tea pots were silver plated and would be brought to the tables on high-quality silver plated trays. There was nothing the Wienholt's wouldn't do to make sure everyone received the best possible service.
The most popular times of the day were mid morning for morning coffee, lunch time and then mid afternoon for afternoon teas. They would also sometimes stay open late when the nearby Electra cinema had an early evening film show so the film goers could enjoy a drink, cake or even a meal before they went home.
The Premier was undoubtedly the social meeting place in Cheadle at the time and it wasn't uncommon for some diners to spend half an afternoon enjoying the food and savouring the atmosphere.
During the 1930s, the venue was also used for wedding receptions, while other more conventional functions were also arranged.
The family were true gourmets and were always looking at new ideas. In fact, as well as their famous bread and cakes, they also made their own chocolates and ice-cream and these too were incredibly popular -especially among the local youngsters. Treacle toffee and cream toffees were other specialties.
Before the war the Wienholts used many innovative ways to publicise their business and one idea they had was a short documentary film. The film still exists today and shows some of the food being prepared and then served to a selection of diners wearing all the fine period fashions of the time. It also shows glimpses of life outside the cafe, as well as period images of Cheadle High Street in the 1930s.
During the war, the shop and cafe did remain open, but in a more limited way as it was harder to obtain some of the specific ingredients which were needed for some of the more exotic cakes. At the time, the family's philosophy was to carry on regardless and so they did.
It was towards the end of the war that founder August Wienholt died and two of his sons Frank and George largely took over the running of the establishment.
However, in 1950, the two sons decided to go there separate ways, so George moved to Alderley Edge where he opened a new bakery and cake shop. This was run for many years by Martin Wienholt, one of August's grandsons and has recently been taken over by Martin's daughter, Heather, August's great grand daughter.
Frank stayed in Cheadle and was assisted by his own family in developing the business further and it continued to prosper throughout the 1950s. When it was particularly busy, there would sometimes be up to 20 or 30 people working in the different buildings and it became a significant employer in the area. Many of the staff were true stalwarts who stayed for decades.
There was simply no other place like it and whilst most of the customers were local there were others who would regularly travel across South Manchester and North Cheshire just to come to the Premier Cafe to enjoy the fantastic freshly made food which was always available. In those days, there were no supermarkets selling cheap mass produced cakes and no-one else in the area had the Wienholts culinary skills to compete. At the height of their popularity there would often be a queue down Cheadle High Street as people willingly waited in line to purchase their favourites.
The family even brought over their own Pastry cooks from Austria and Switzerland so they could genuinely say that what they made was truly Continental.
However, by the beginning of the 1960s, demand for the upstairs cafe was not as great as it had been and a decision was taken to close it down and for the business to concentrate on the shop and the bakery below.
As part of this evolutionary process, the then owner Michael Wienholt -one of Frank's sons- gradually turned the business into a delicatessen and wine shop and also prepared freshly made sandwiches which were sold to passers by and local workers. He even also changed the shop's name to Michael Wienholt, losing the Premier Cafe name forever.
By the early 1990s, the business had effectively closed down, but family members still owned the different buildings and rented out the main shop to St. Ann's Hospice who turned it into a charity shop. The new occupants did, initially, revive the upstairs cafe, although not in the same style as the Premier Cafe, but it didn't prove to be financially viable and it was subsequently closed and the room used for storage.
In more recent times the upstairs rooms have been transformed again, and have now been turned into a second hand bridal suite selling a wide range of stylish wedding dresses.
Today, as you walk into the charity shop, you can see instantly many of the old art deco fixtures and fittings which would have been so prominent 60 to 70 years ago. Most noticeable is the impressive staircase with its chrome banister which takes you to where the cafe used to be. Along the staircase, there's also a prominent period display cabinet.
At the top of the stairs, there are two adjoining signs. One says coffee and tea room to the left and the other says bar and coffee lounge to the right. The coffee and tea room was the main cafe and it is this room which is now the bridal suite. As you go inside, you see the large bay window which would have had a table in front of it and would have been the most popular place to sit. Around the walls are all sorts of art deco colours, artifacts, clocks, chrome mirrored tiles and other fixtures and fittings which have barely changed since they were installed around 80 years ago.
In the smaller lounge across the stairway there's further wonderful art deco fittings which have barely changed. Most noticeable here is the huge fan on the ceiling with a glass window above.
The charity shop downstairs is now mainly manned by volunteer assistants, with some able to remember the shop and cafe during its heyday. They say they regularly get people coming in asking if the upstairs cafe is still open, while others are keen to recount their own personal memories of when they did come and have their tea and coffee there many years earlier.
Elsie Perrins, now 85 and living just round the corner from the shop, is one the regular visitors. She was a Land Girl during the Second World War and used to do her courting in the nearby Electra cinema and says she regularly visited the shop during its heyday because of the beautiful cakes they made. "You don't get anything like them at all these days" she reflects on the day I went to visit.
Sadly, it's unlikely there will ever be anything similar to the Premier Cafe again, but at least this wonderful building remains, and with it, so many memories from an important part of Cheadle's rich history.