Panacea founder launches his new Manchester venture: The Counter House

The Counter House in Ancoats

The Counter House in Ancoats - Credit: Archant

Hale-born Joe Akka, boss of the legendary nightspot Panacea, talks about his latest venture on the Manchester scene

Joe Akka

Joe Akka - Credit: Archant

I can’t help but admire restaurant boss Joe Akka, as we sit down to talk about his new enterprise. It’s a neighbourhood dining concept called The Counter House which recently opened in the former Ice Plant building in fashionable Ancoats.

While it’s a lovely space - which on the sparkling opening night attracted a glamorous crowd - this is something of an unexpected departure for the man responsible for legendary clubby night spots such as Holy City Zoo, Sugar Lounge and Panacea.

The Counter House on Blossom Street has a much more laidback vibe that has a 24/7 appeal. It’s where you might go for a healthy shot of fresh juice for breakfast, or a vegan lunch, then meet friends for cocktails at night. It’s a place where you can rock up in jeans and a tee shirt or in a designer suit.

It’s totally modern in concept and as eco as possible in design with a living wall filled with plants and tables made from recycled yoghurt pots.

Inside The Counter House

Inside The Counter House - Credit: Archant

Joe says they didn’t set out to be ‘preachy’ about healthy eating but they did want to appeal to a clientele who are careful about what they put into their body and who care about the environment.

‘We didn’t just want to focus on what people were eating. We wanted to try and be as authentic as possible,’ he explains.

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‘We’ve not been able to use reclaimed materials throughout but we’ve used them where we can so we’ve got the recycled yoghurt pots tables and a reclaimed oak floor. The marble we are using is reconstituted, all the leather is faux leather, and we have retained some existing features in the building, it has bags of character.’

He also has ambitious plans for this new concept, wanting to eventually roll it out across the UK.

‘We are very excited about taking it to other cities,’ he reveals.

‘We are considering all options at this stage but it’s something we definitely want to take out of Manchester.’

Hale-born Joe seems to have been on the Manchester night scene forever and yet he still looks like he’s in his 30s. It turns out he started in the industry in his early teens and while his peers were propping up the bar experimenting with varying degrees of intoxication he was drinking in the mechanics of running clubs.

A big influence on the former Stockport Grammar School pupil was his concert promoter uncle, Danny Betesh of Kennedy Street Enterprises.

‘I was 17 when I first ventured into clubs. In those days I started off promoting events at the Hacienda,’ he says.

‘That was in the late 90s and I then moved into concerts. I worked with my uncle who had Kennedy Street Enterprises. We used to promote everyone from Barry Manilow and the Spice Girls, to Michael Jackson and Rod Stewart. We even put Travis on at the Boardwalk in Manchester. I think it was one of their first gigs when they were a relatively unknown outfit.

‘I did that for a few years and then I was involved in live music management and I stayed in live music for a number of years and then got involved in bars.’

Throwing parties in the country houses of Cheshire, including Shrigley Hall and Tatton Park, launching Holy City Zoo and the Sugar lounge all preceded the opening of Panacea with his business partner Steve Walker, who works with Individual Restaurants which own the likes of Piccolino and Gino Di Campo.

‘Some 14 years later (Panacea) is still going,’ says Joe.

As has been well-documented the Panacea they opened in Alderley Edge went up in flames and Joe’s career hasn’t been without its lows. It’s not really something he wants to talk about.

‘That’s another conversation,’ he laughs, when I ask how he has coped with the challenges. ‘There’s probably a book to be written there,’ he adds.

‘We’ve always managed to maintain a very well-run space. To succeed at whatever industry you are in requires hard work, absolute dedication and I think it also requires a huge degree of honesty. You have to be honest about what’s required and it’s not always easy.

‘I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I do like things to be right. Whether its environment , menu whether it’s service style, it’s something that’s very rewarding when you get it right.

‘I think the thing that drives you is the reward. It’s nice to bring enjoyment to people. I suppose the common theme of what I have been trying to do is to provide people with a form of entertainment.’

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