When I was kid, my Aunty Val owned a pub/restaraunt in Ivybridge in Devon. It was called The Old Coach House and was all black beams and whitewashed walls. I used to spend alot of time there helping to polish the horse brasses that festooned the walls, and the ship in a bottle on the mantlepiece. I used to ‘help’ with the washing up in giant rubber gloves while I was taught the words to ‘I’ve got a brand new combine harvester’ by my favourite waitress. Remember it so clearly. I believe that having this business was my Aunty Val’s happy place. When it closed down she was never the same.
My granny Vera was not the best cook in the world but she was a seasoned pro at a Victoria Sponge and I spent many precious hours at the W.I in the village hall where she would enter them in the best cake competition. We would then take the cake home and give it a place of honour on the hostess trolley next to the best china tea set and we would have very civilised chats and i would use tongs to drop sugar lumps into my milky tea. Thus began my love for the ritual of tea, I knew I always wanted to either run a B and B or a Tearoom. I have a fiercely passionate, creative side trying to get out and dazzle the masses..
In 2001, I was working for the council as a Family Support Worker. I enjoyed my job but I knew that cut backs were looming and caseloads increasing. I had already had nearly 2 months off with stress and I felt that maybe this was the time to move in another direction. At the time my kids were 12 and 10 years old and I felt like maybe this was the time for me to establish myself in my next project. I am a restless soul with a short attention span and I find it hard to exist in a job where I have no satisfaction or joy.
I decided to trial my idea by hosting a pop-up tearoom in our local park pavillion. I hired the space every other sunday for a couple of months. I spent the Saturdays baking and the next day I packed everything in my old Citroen and drove round the corner and unpacked it all again into the Pavillion. It was well received and supported locally. People actually came and sat round the playgrous’ paint stained tables which I had covered in oilskin cloths. They drank tea and ate cake and made appreciative noises and it kind of seemed to work.
A local builder and friend let us know that an Indian restaurant round the corner was coming up for rent and came with us to have a look.
Now retrospect is a great thing but I was naive and as always saw the good potential; particularly the mock Michelangelo ceiling of cherubs that called to me! (it was put there by a previous owner, he was Italian and died of a heart attack and I convinced myself that he was now an insitu ghost, guiding me on my culinary journey, like the Mary Portas of the spirit world. What a fantastic ‘feature’ that would make! Never mind the kitchen caked in grease, the outdoor extractor chimney that was clogged up with old fat. The cherubs swung it. The landlord owned the corner shop and we had known him for years. Surely that would be a good thing? So we bought the lease and the ‘fixtures and fittings’. The fixtures and fittings consisted of:
A knackered till
about 500 indian beer glasses
A light up waterfall picture
50 balti dishes
4 boxes of beermats
I think you get the idea……
We gutted it, opened up the kitchen and cleaned and scrubbed and painted. Obviously, I decided to paint the majority of the interior my favourite shades of raspberry pink and turquoise, magnolia was never an option. I scoured vintage shops for umbrella stands, coat stands, kids toys, books, anything that would add to the feel I was going for. I got some World War 2 information posters from The Imperial War Museum (‘To dress extravagantly in Wartime}}}}}} and hung them in frames, next to tin signs and kissing flamingos. Anything vaguely cake or tea related ate away at my decor budget. I wanted bright and colourful and odd and interesting and comfy and homely and welcoming…
It was around half way to completion that I got a phone call. Becky lived locally and had seen a write up in a local magazine about my plan. She rung on the off chance that maybe we needed someone to help bake cakes. It was good because I had been so preoccupied with the decor I had not even really thought about it! We arranged to go and meet her for a chat and it was a very good move! As soon as I met her I knew that we were going to get on famously. She had homemade liqueurs on the table and was a self taught cake baker with as much enthusiasm for cake as me. And thus Becky joined and was integral to the Honeypie journey. I am very blessed to have her in my life and as a very ,very dear friend. I can never thank her enough for what she brought to Honeypie with her beautiful creations and flair. She kept me sane through the crap bits and we sang Doris Day through the good bitsxxx
I was winging it. No doubt about that. I had no idea what I was doing and to be honest had been focused on the aesthetics and not the costings. Honeypie Tearoom was born. We covered the tables left as part of the ‘fixtures and fittings’ in oilcloths in a variety of patterns; spots, ducks, dogs, and each table had a vase of real flowers. A friend ran me up some spotty curtains and I invested alot of love and joy and tweaking into creating the aesthetic I wanted.
I remember someone telling me that owning your own business is like having a new baby. An analogy I soon realised was painfully true: We were open for 6 days a week but there was no day off. Buying supplies, cleaning, paperwork, baking, trying to move things forward. i never invested so much physical and emotional energy in anything…except maybe my babies!! My days started in the cafe at 8 and ended at around 7. But everyday I woke up with butterflies in the pit of my tummy. I absolutely loved it, it was my baby and I adored it. I felt so lucky.
Our reputation grew, we were vegetarian/vegan with a small concession of smoked salmon. I never advertised it as such it just was. As a lifelong vegetarian I was constantly dissapointed by the quality of vegetarian options, particularly breakfast, so we created this beauty:
THE HONEYPIE VEGGIE BREAKFAST
once made 10 of these on my own for a unexpected early morning sunday rush. It was epic, I nearly had a meltdown.
We started to get regular customers and bookings for baby showers and wedding breakfasts, tea leaf reading sessions, kids mini afternoon tea parties and even a sewing group. We held cake stand making sessions and a knitting club and a schmooze into the weekend music evening, a St.Lukes charity pie night and a P.T.A meeting and the Clandestine Cake Club.
We took on work experience young people from the job centre. They didn’t get paid but they got a bus pass and training and experience, which we made sure was enjoyable. They also got fed and watered. Altogether around 10 lovely human beings came to us and they were almost all a joy.
We recruited any other staff locally. As well as Becky, my right hand woman, we had 4 local teenagers who worked on Saturdays, and the gorgeous Isobel who came on work placement and I couldn’t let go! Caroline who worked on Thursday and Friday and was a perfectionist in the best way.
I could go on but I felt I wanted to document what we did so heres some cake:
oh and not forgetting the very popular Elvis Toast:
In my cafe I was in my element, I literally loved what I was doing but my homelife started to suffer. I never saw my husband (or my dog!) or my kids apart from when they brought their friends in for a free deluxe hot chocolate. I came home exhausted with a plethora of cafe owner related injuries…I mean, repetitive strain injury from making coffees! Who knew!! We were broken and there were times when my kids needed me and I wasn’t there. I missed family weddings and celebrations because I couldn’t afford to close.
The more popular we became, the more staff we needed, the more supplies we needed. The outgoings grew and the rent was crippling us. Many times we came to a decision to stop but we wanted to give it one last go. My heart was breaking. I knew it would have to end. Our small business advisor suggested that we should cut our ingredients bill by ditching homemade and buying in. This went against everything that I wanted and the ethos of Honeypie. I never took a wage and I can tell you that if I could have done it for the love I would have. My advice to anyone wanting to open a business like mine would be to do it when your kids are old enough to be doing their own thing and if you have a partner they need to be 100% sharing your dream. I nearly lost my marriage. It was bloody tough, and I knew what had to give. A costa coffee leaflet came through the letterbox. It was opening directly opposite. We put the buisness up for sale.
I am not going to go into the detail of the next 6 months. It doesn’t deserve to be acknowledged. It was hugely stressful and deeply depressing. I struggled with my own demons. I hadn’t made it work. I wasn’t good enough. I had put my family through so much.
After nearly 3 years, we wrapped up the china in newspaper, signed the papers and locked the doors for the last time.
In retrospect there’s alot I would have done differently but there is definitely alot I would not have changed. I had the best time, met the most loveliest people and am hugely proud of the reputation that we built and a little part of me hopes that perhaps one day Honeypie will return in a different from. Becky and I have a dream of a cake and tea ice cream van that will peruse the streets with a giant rotating cupcake and will play Doris Day singing Secret love…..