WHEN Blacks Corner first opened its doors, on September 23, 2017, it caused quite a stir. The building was well known in the village of East Boldon, having first been established as a grocer’s by George Black, in 1918. The question was, what on Earth had it been turned into?

“We kept the whole business a secret for pretty much two years,” recalls co-owner Jonny Dryden. “Even the windows had screens up. It wasn’t the kind of brand we could put out there because there’s nowhere else like it.”

If this was partly a ploy to pique people’s interest, it worked – on opening night, there was such a big queue that Jonny’s sister Lauren had to man the door. It’s fair to say those early customers were in for a surprise. “The food is designed for the space,” says Jonny of the painstakingly-designed interior. “When you see those two elements, it comes together and it’s absolutely perfect.”

The food is meat and cheese – or British charcuterie and British farmhouse cheeses, to be precise. Blacks Corner specialises in these, along with wine, sourcing cured meats from London’s Borough Market and cheeses from – well, just about everywhere in the British Isles. The produce is key, and Jonny and his business partner and childhood friend, Chris Lowden, pride themselves on knowing its provenance. “Our menu tells people where the produce is from,” says Jonny.

As beginnings go, this one couldn’t be much humbler. When Chris found the building, which stands on the corner of St Bedes and Station Road, it was an absolute wreck. It was only with his expert eye, as a professional joiner, that he saw its potential. “Chris said, ‘I’ve viewed this property, it’s absolutely perfect, shall we go for it?’,” recalls Jonny. “It turned out it was completely derelict – there was no running water, the electrics were shot. I couldn’t really see past it, but Chris went and got all the plans done. From there we just started travelling down to London to see what other places were doing.”

Armed with The London Cheese & Wine Guide, the pair visited an eclectic mix of venues, including the capital’s famous Borough Market. Keen to replicate the food and surroundings, they asked stallholder Sean Cannon for work experience. “He said, ‘Why on earth would you drive from Newcastle to come and work on a market stall for a day?’ laughs Jonny. “We went down there and did a pop-up stall with him.”

If Chris is the interior design guru, then engineer Jonny is the foodie. While working on a ship in Malta, he met the pastry chef Elliot Mercieca, who taught him about kitchen layout and how to plan a menu. On his travels to places like Sicily and Albania, he embraced their rich food heritage. The result is things like flatbreads and crostini on Blacks Corner’s menu – along with Jonny’s passion for great food.

“It’s almost like a hidden food revolution in England that these farms are producing this calibre of cured meats and it really excited us,” he says. “A lot of it comes from the continent, but those animals have only been reared for two years and they’re specifically reared. In Britain, because we don’t have that kind of industry, the animals are often a lot older. The meat is better – it’s more developed, there’s more marble in.”

Jonny feels that British farmhouse cheeses are similarly under-appreciated. He describes how post-war restrictions almost wiped out production but speaks of a renaissance, with varieties like Lincolnshire and Montgomery Cheddar. “What that means for us in Blacks Corner is we’re able to source farmhouse cheeses that we are able to trace right back to the animals that produced the milk,” he says. “Some of them have only come back into the country in the last 20 years.”

Having met as four-year-olds, Jonny and Chris, both 33 and from Cleadon, first started developing properties on leaving school. It was natural, then, that Blacks Corner would be ambitious – though you suspect that 18 months’ planning and a 12-month build exceeded their forecasts. The hard work paid off when the venue was named national runner-up in 2017’s Northern Design Awards and when they subsequently gained entry to the 2018 Restaurant & Bar Design Awards.

It helped that both had other careers, which enabled them to finance the project, and, above all, says Jonny, that they were friends. “It reflects in the building,” he says. “I think it makes the whole concept a bit human, almost, rather than just a business to make money. It hasn’t been laborious. It’s something we’re still doing with passion.”

It couldn’t be more of a family affair. Jonny lives above Blacks Corner with his fiancée, Isabella, while Chris lives just down the road with his wife, Beth, and two young children. Beth’s dad, John Craig, is the head chef and mum Noreen used to work in the building when it was the Halifax. While some might find this claustrophobic, Jonny loves it. “I go round to Chris’s house on Christmas Day – it’s all done from a family aspect,” he says. “A family-run business is different from a corporation, but also different from friends in business.”

When Jonny gets married, in 2019, Chris will, of course, be best man. The reception will be at Blacks Corner – though Jonny insists on it being a one-off – and the centrepiece will be a cheese cake (literally a stack of cheeses). “We do wedding cheese cakes,” he explains. “The cheeses look so visually stunning and so ornamental by themselves, we thought, what happens when you put them on top of each other? Then we thought, what happens when you put floristry on top of them? Let’s put them out there and see what people think.”

Plans for the future include expansion – should they happen to come across another characterful building – local deliveries and an online shop. To keep things fresh, they’ll keep innovating. “There’s always stuff on the list – other venues and other products and expanding into new markets,” says Jonny. “That’s what makes all this exciting, but it also stops us stagnating.”

• Blacks Corner, 1 St Bedes, East Boldon, T: 0191-536 3762, W: blackscorner.co.uk