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Behind the scenes at Thor's Tipi at York Christmas Market

Artist impression of Thor's Tipi at York's Museum Gardens for 2023
Artist impression of Thor's Tipi at York's Museum Gardens for 2023

Amanda Monaghan loves Christmas. She loves parties. And she loves watching people have a good time.

All three come together in Thor's Tipis, the phenomenally successful business that she runs with her husband Richard.

For some people, Christmas doesn't really start until Thor's Tipi goes up in York, said the couple.

Thor's first became part of York's festive scene in 2015 when a giant, double-sized canvas tent, festooned with fairy lights and boasting a fire pit and pop-up bar, opened in Parliament Street next to the charming huts of the Christmas market.

It was an instant success.

Great British Life: Amanda and Richard Monaghan of Thor's Tipis. Photo by Anthony Chappel-RossAmanda and Richard Monaghan of Thor's Tipis. Photo by Anthony Chappel-Ross

'It was a crazy opening. I went to Booker's and bought enough mulled wine for two weeks - but we sold out in our first three hours,' said Amanda. ' I had to send friends and families all over to buy more - they cleared out Tesco and Asda!'

Thor's Tipi became a regular attraction in York at Christmas time and was so popular that not only did the couple open a second big festive tent in the grounds of the city's Principal hotel in 2018, they set up replicas across Yorkshire - in Leeds and Sheffield - and then in Lincoln and London.

Summer tipis appeared too - and the pop-up bars became a welcome adjunct to the couple's first and primary venture, PapaKata, which provided tipis for weddings and events. The addition of the temporary bars gave the couple a year-round business rather than a seasonal one.

PapaKata was set up in 2006 when the couple, who live in Acaster Malbis just outside York, wanted a tipi for their wedding but couldn't find one in the north. Their solution? They bought their own and started hiring it out.

Great British Life: Thor's Tipi: 'bringing Christmas to York'Thor's Tipi: 'bringing Christmas to York' Their first booking came from Jamie Oliver who wanted a pop-up kitchen for his TV show Jamie's Chef, filmed at his home.

Richard recalled: 'The tipi got delivered from Sweden to Jamie Oliver's garden in Essex. It came with an instruction manual, and me and Amanda's dad had to put it up. It took us five days - now it takes five hours!'

The couple, who have two children and met on product design degree course at Northumbria University, Newcastle, were living in London at the time and gave up their day jobs to throw themselves into PapaKata.

In the first year they had 12 weddings, but by 2008 were doing 70 and had a growing staff.

Amanda said: 'We were not only doing weddings, but events and festivals. One summer we were doing 28 weddings a week and had 46 full-time staff and 110 seasonal staff.'

At the start of 2020, things had never looked better. 'We had 374 weddings booked. Sales were up 25 per cent and we were due to have our best year ever,' said Amanda.

Great British Life: Street food at Thor's Tipi in Parliament Street, York, December 2021Street food at Thor's Tipi in Parliament Street, York, December 2021

But as Covid struck and the nation went into lockdown, delight turned to despair.

'It was horrendous; just the impossibility of it all,' said Richard. 'Our business model was illegal - where could we go from here?'

By the autumn of 2020, Papa Kata had folded and the couple's story featured on an edition of BBC's Panorama. 'I am crying for about 20 minutes in that film,' said Amanda.

However, because their Thor's Tipi business had always been a separate entity to PapaKata, as lockdown restrictions eased, the couple slowly began rebuilding.

Fast forward to today and the business has made a full recovery.

'We have regained our turnover and have a great team,' said Amanda.

Now the focus is very much on the future - especially this Christmas.

Great British Life: Festive fun inside Thor's Tipi in YorkFestive fun inside Thor's Tipi in York

Thor's will return to the grounds of The Principal hotel with its American-style white Sperry tent, complete with a ceiling net of red baubles, giant feasting tables, wood burners, and food from York street food legends Yuzu. On the menu will be baked Camembert, pigs in blankets bao buns, loaded fries topped with sausage, Brussels sprouts and Cranberry sauce, and chestnut gyoza - all served on platters which are actual skis! Also returning for this season will be the fun 'ski shot board' - literally a ski with fixed shot glasses, which friends knock back in unison.

'The atmosphere in that place on an evening is just wonderful,' said Amanda.

Bookings are taken for this venue, and it has been a go-to destination for many a Christmas do, not just for people in York.

'People come from all over Yorkshire, from Leeds, from Halifax. They come to spend their Christmas in York. It is really lovely to see,' said Richard.

The big news for 2023 will be the return of the original Thor's Tipi to the city - but at a different location. The tipi was absent from Parliament Street last Christmas after top North Yorkshire chef Andrew Pern - of The Star Inn fame - pinched the spot for his Swiss Chalet-inspired The Winter Hutte.

Great British Life: Street food at Thor's in YorkStreet food at Thor's in York

However, this year, After Make It York - the city's tourism body - decided to extend the Christmas market in Parliament Street effectively ruling out a pop-up bar/restaurant, Richard and Amanda approached the York Museum's Trust and struck a deal to bring Thor's to Museum Gardens.

'We are super excited to bring the classic Thor's to Museum Gardens - particularly as this is my home town,' said Amanda.

Fans can expect the compete Thor's experience, with fire pits, Christmas trees and fairy lights, giant red bows from the cross bars, and a festive food and drink menu, as well as live music twice a week.

Yuzu will be in charge of the kitchen again, serving up hot dogs, but with proper Yorkshire sausages, said Amanda, as well as loaded festive fries.

Great British Life: Thor's at The Headrow in LeedsThor's at The Headrow in Leeds

For drinks, there will be mulled wine and cider, draught beer and cocktails, as well as luxury hot chocolate. 'We are having fun with spirits too this year. We have an orange whisky which tastes amazing in our hot chocolate - making it taste like a Chocolate orange,' said Amanda.

The couple hope Thor's at Museum Gardens will become a regular fixture in years to come.

They are also excited about their Thor's pop-up in Leeds, at Victoria Gardens near the city art gallery, particularly because Leeds is reviving its Christmas market this year.

Looking ahead, a new path beckons. Last year, the pair took on their first bricks and mortar business, taking over the popular Dusk bar in York city centre. It's a direction they are likely to build on.

'We have plans for more permanent offers with something in the pipeline for both Sheffield and York. Our future will be will permanent and semi-permanent bars,' said Amanda.

With Thor's Tipis, of course, top of the bill come Christmas time.

Great British Life: Fire pit welcome at Thor's in YorkFire pit welcome at Thor's in York

All set for Christmas

Opening dates for Thor's Tipis this festive season in Yorkshire

Principal hotel, York - November 10 to December 24

Museum Gardens, York - November 15 to December 31

Victoria Gardens, Leeds - November 17- December 31

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