THERE’S something of a revival happening in Old Leigh at the moment.

The Bell Sands development is coming along at a rapid rate of knots and husband and wife team James and Samantha Anderson are perfectly poised to take advantage.

The pair opened vegan restaurant, the Oak Tree, in Leigh Road almost five years ago and have just opened brand new deli, the Acorn, in Leigh Hill.

So how did their ventures into the world of veggie eateries come about?

“Sam and I have always been passionate animal lovers - as well as lovers of good food! A veggie restaurant seemed to be a natural progression,” explains James.

“The vegan movement is huge now. When we opened, my wife was vegan and I was a vegetarian. I had been a vegetarian since I was five years old, but had never considered making the step to veganism.

“However, within six months of opening, we met more and more vegans and making the switch just seemed like a natural progression.”

Echo: Acorn vegan/veggie deli, 11-13 Leigh Hill, Leigh.Leigh's OakTree restaurant is opening a brand new deli  ..

So, with the Oak Tree proving ever more popular – indeed fans of the restaurant include Game of Thrones actress Nathalie Emmanuel, comedian Simon Amstell and TV Presenter Jodie Marsh – what prompted them to open the Acorn?

“We felt there was a gap in the market - somewhere to have a great coffee, some vegan cake, as well as pick up those 'hard to find' supplies,” says James.

“As a vegan myself, it’s so frustrating to go out and not be able to grab something. Sometimes, we don't want a restaurant or to bring packed lunch... we just want to sit and enjoy a bit of food in a relaxed atmosphere. We will also be selling ready meals from the Oak Tree as well - so hopefully that will appeal.”

When did the pair take over the deli site?

“We have owned the site for years, but have previously rented it out while getting the Oak Tree off the ground,” reveals James.

“Seeing the local area growing and the site opposite finally happening, we thought it was the perfect time to open!”

And what appealed to them about it?

Echo: New business - the Acorn veggie deli was born from the successful Leigh restaurant the Oak Tree

“The history and the location – it’s absolutely stunning and, along with the Bell Hotel Site opposite, it’s an integral part of Leigh history. We also live just over the road so that’s always handy!

“I initially bought the site in 2010 (I also run a property development company called Oakleigh Homes). We created a fantastic scheme of five apartments and retained the ground floor (now the Acorn). When we started work, the site was very dilapidated. It had a glorious past as Oscars Restaurant, but had definitely seen better days!

“When I was renovating the Oscars Restaurant years ago, we spent so much time and money restoring the beautiful stone work to the front of the building. By adding some fantastic new shop fascia, we have further added to the aesthetic appeal of the building. It really is a stunning building.”

Speaking of history… is it true it’s haunted?

“Yes,” exclaims James. “Apparently, the top floor is haunted. According to legend, a heartbroken lady can be seen standing at the top window looking out to sea... waiting for her husband to return from sea!”

What does he put the popularity of the Oak Tree down to?

“I honestly think it’s the relaxed atmosphere and friendly staff,” he says. “Don't get me wrong, our food is amazing, but we employ such wonderful and passionate staff that I think that filters down.

“The ethos at the Oak Tree has always been to produce tasty and affordable food - that just happens to be vegan/vegetarian. We don't want to have a place that makes people feel uncomfortable, but to be a positive and relaxed environment to hopefully encourage everyone to try veggie food!

Echo: Top team - James Anderson, Sam Anderson and Phoebe Wall

“We don't preach or lecture about the benefits of a meat free lifestyle. For example, we offer an incentive in both places for anyone to try non-dairy milk in their teas or coffees. Not only are they the same price as cow’s milk, but we also donate 25p to local animal charities for every drink purchased. We hope that this will positively encourage a change in peoples thinking.”

Who does the cooking?

“Initially, it was my responsibility - along with help from the team,” he says. “In fact, Currently, the WHOLE menu - including the tapas and theme menus - were designed and produced by me, with absolutely no recipe books. All from my weird and wonderful brain!

“However, since May, we welcomed back our wonderful chef Hannah Szczypka. Hannah had been with us from the early days, but went off for a year to travel around Australia. Luckily, she is back now and is helping us launch the new menu at the Acorn - as well as coming up with a new Oak Tree menu for 2018!

“We also have a fantastic general manager Phoebe Wall. Phoebe, will be overseeing both the restaurant and the new deli. Phoebe has become so important to us - both personally and for our business. She joined us at 16 as a ‘Saturday girl’ and has grown into an incredible manager. We would be lost without her!”

Will the food at the deli change from season to season?

“The Acorn will be ever changing,” he confirms. “We will be selling fresh organic vegetables that change with the seasons - and our dishes will reflect that.”

Now with a restaurant and the new deli up and running, what’s next for Mr and Mrs Anderson?

“We would love to open more Oak Trees or even Acorns,” he muses. “But in the immediate short term, we want to take both places as far as they can go. We are expanding the garden at the Oaktree next summer so we can sit another 40 or so people outside.

“But after that, who knows.... a hotel maybe?”