How far would you travel for the perfect sandwich?
If the answer is more than 30 miles then you're bound to have heard of Wright's Food Emporium – a cafe, deli, and wine store in the heart of Carmarthenshire.
And its popular Cubano sarnie is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to why a former Georgian pub in the village of Llanarthney is now a top destination for many foodies both in and outside of Wales.
Owned by experienced restaurateurs Simon and Maryann Wright, who were behind the nearby Y Polyn and Four Seasons venues, the Emporium is undoubtedly a lovely place to spend a couple of hours, and a couple of quid, during a day out.
It opened at the start of 2014 inside a former Brains pub, which cut a large figure in the small village but had been yet another rural local to close its doors.
Luckily for Llanarthne the Wrights had an idea that would see the building – built by the Cawdor estate and opened in 1831 – become as popular as it ever had been. But how exactly have they managed to bottle the success that draws in customers from all over the place?
While locals make up a number of regulars, which Simon attributes to living and working in the community for more than 30 years, familiar faces often travel up from Cardiff and beyond for a pick of the locally-sourced menu.
"We’re in a fortunate position of only living two miles away and our previous business was just up the road, Y Polyn, so we are lucky enough to have been part of this community already for 30-odd years," says Simon, a former critic for the AA Guide and restaurant consultant on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.
"So we had a really good reaction [when we opened] and people were incredibly helpful. They wanted the building back to life – it was looking pretty ropey and it’s a significant building in terms of the village. So we have great support from the village and we try really hard to work with as many local people as we can. Anything that we need, goods and services, our produce is very local, certainly within a 25-mile radius from here and that's increasing all the time."
The support of locals is a huge boon for an independent business but it could be Maryann and Simon's ethos around running their cafe that makes it so attractive to those further afield.
"You have to be more imaginative," adds Simon. "I’ve been involved in food in Wales for most of my life and it has gone through big changes in the number of places there is to eat out. Country pubs as we all know have struggled in the last couple of decades and this [place] was an example of a pub that had struggled and then closed.
"But as a result of that there are opportunities as they aren’t ridiculously expensive to buy and if you think of an idea that will pull people in you can bring them back to life."
On the day I visited, a Monday in mid-November, there was a constant flow of customers and Simon told me around 200 could pass through that day.
One person visiting for lunch was Bath baker Andrew Lowkes, who was en route to Ceredigion to collect flour for his business, Landrace Bakery.
Andrew wasn't there by accident – he used to work for a company that supplied the Emporium before opening Landrace.
Why did he make a point of stopping? "It’s one of the most dynamic wine shops in the country and it’s on a high street in rural Wales," Andrew says.
"It has the confidence to sell that quality of product and expose it to those who may not usually be exposed to it – you need confidence and a team of people that can do that too."
Andrew adds that the relaxed atmosphere and more affordable menu means that people will return to places like Wright's over and over.
"I think places like Wright's interest me more as a food 'destination'. Things are priced in such a way that you can come back time and time again.
"I used to live in London and went through a phase where I would visit fine dining restaurants and you’d post them on Instagram and you’d go there just once a year and then it's onto the next one.
"I find myself much more inclined to come to places like this time after time – it’s friendly and welcoming and you have total trust that the people are doing it with integrity and expertise."
Retaining regulars and repeat business is a must, adds Andrew – something which both he and Wright's have nailed.
"Our business relies on people coming back one, two, three times a week," he says. "Our future utterly depends on regulars, not people coming from London one or two times. Us being aware of that and looking after those regulars is important and I think that’s the same here at Wright’s."
Co-workers Annette Callaghan and Henrietta Penn like the place too. They meet here to work as Annette lives in Merthyr Tydfil and and Henrietta is in Newport, Pembrokeshire. It has everything they need – coffee on tap, wifi, good food, and it's dog-friendly too.
It's a reason to visit Wright's that I wasn't expecting but makes perfect sense for the pair who work side by side as medical compliance officers.
"As a work location it’s relatively new for us," Henrietta says. "They have lots of seasonal stuff and they are dog-friendly.
"I think originally our requirements were wifi, power, warmth somewhere to take the dog, and food – it’s quite a mix or requirements, it’s quite specific.
"We both use the Good Food Guide and it had been on my radar for ages but it had never been on my route anywhere. But it’s probably the most useful one we go to. But there’s only one negative – they don’t open until 11!"
Emporium general manager Leigh Sinclair has been working there for two years after getting to know Maryann and Simon.
Leigh says: "The building itself has been a place of hospitality for nearly 200 years and I think it’s lent itself to the ethos that Simon and Maryann have and their approach. And there's the atmosphere – it’s relaxed but there’s an ethos that lies beneath it that holds it together, which is great food, quality produce. It’s a very relaxed place to be and has a great customer base."
From Brynamman, half an hour down the road from Llanarthne, Leigh previously worked at Curado in Cardiff and Ultracomida in Narberth. An artist too, his paintings are displayed across Wright's – a nod at the generous encouragement of local creatives Simon is enthused about.
Leigh also brings into the conversation the T word – tourism. Carmarthen has undoubtedly become more attractive to more tourists in recent years and, as a result, more high-quality eating places have popped up. Y Polyn is still open five minutes away, Carmarthen town centre has the likes of The Warren, and half an hour west you have Inn at the Sticks in Llansteffan and Brown's in Laugharne.
"The Towy Valley in recent years has begun to draw people in in a way it hasn’t before," says Leigh. "You’d get people driving down to Pembrokeshire or to the Gower but here, inland, it's so agricultural that I don't think it was necessarily on people’s radars.
"Now a lot of people from London make a point of coming here and we have had people in from Ireland saying they travelled to be here but we were in their mind when they were booking locally. Towy ticks the boxes for them."
Simon agrees, adding: "We have a very mixed audience. What’s great about here is we have a lot of regular locals – the most local being those in the village. The Towy Valley itself, we get a lot of support from Llandeilo, Swansea, Llanelli, and we do get people coming here from Cardiff for their lunch. And an awful lot of people come from the other way, Pembrokeshire. We’re a bit like a motorway service station – but cheaper!
"And of course we get a lot of people down here on holiday. Hopefully we are part of the attraction – eating places are important to tourism.
"The more that we have that's attractive enough to people who want to visit the more tourists we get.
"But there isn’t much passing trade – people are here because they’ve made the effort to come here.
"And that’s good really even though it sounds counter-intuitive. If people have to make the effort to find you it’s more likely you are going to be what they are looking for. They’re more likely to enjoy it because they know what it’s going to be like before they get there."
Working for the AA Guide and, to an extent, on the TV series Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares when he had to go into struggling venues and report back to Gordon Ramsay on how the show could help them, has helped Simon, and Maryann, cultivate Wright's into a place attractive to them and their customers.
He adds: "I got to see lots of other restaurants – it’s a great way to do market research!
"But, we love what we do – it’s very much the vision of a place that we’d like to visit and eat at but it’s not for everyone and why should it be?
"Eating out should be a thing of joy. We wanted somewhere relaxed and no standing on ceremony and I guess that’s what we’ve achieved.
"We’ve got a very broad audience but we went into this not thinking about the audience much at all, which is possibly a reckless thing to do.
"On the other hand it’s stood us in reasonably good stead to do things that we think are good and worthwhile and just hope that other people like it.
"That’s not to say we don’t think about the market, we do, but primarily we have some principles that we adhere to that we want to be as fresh, local, seasonal and as simple as we possibly can but to a very high quality and in a relaxed atmosphere and at a price point that’s accessible to people."
It's relative newcomer to the team, 23-year-old Ezme Short, who perhaps sees both sides of the coin when it comes to the charm of Wright's.
From just a short drive away in Tumble, Ezme has visited Wright's as a customer since it opened almost six years ago. With a background in hospitality, including a stint as a chalet host in Italy, Ezme has worked there for four months and loves it.
"I’ve learnt a lot about organic farming and local produce – it has been a real learning curve here," she says.
"I’d say our originality is what appeals to customers and everyone who works here has a huge passion and a huge interest and it shows. We’re not just your average hospitality restaurant, where students come in to earn a quick bit of cash, and I think that shows in the business and customers appreciate that."
What comes across is that Wright's is a lot more than just somewhere that does excellent coffee and dreamy lunches and cakes in front of cosy roaring fires. The familial relationship with staff and willingness to encourage creativity in and outside of their business from Simon and Maryann is evident – while I was there the former couldn't stop reeling off recommendations for other places.
But would they open a second Emporium?
Simon says: "We never wanted to do another one. Sometimes you get the idea that growth in business is an inevitability but it would be really hard to do another one. Especially to get a team of staff like this together again.
"I would rather it be, and this has already happened, that staff leave and open their own place. We have a little shop in Cardiff but another one of these is not on the agenda for me.
"We need more independents, not chains, even not a small chain of Wright’s – it wouldn’t be the same."