As well as great food, it’s the people that make off-motorway stops special. Genuine conversations with business owners passionate about their food and neigbourhood are hard to come by in the services but flow freely in the smaller shops and cafes just nearby. Stopping for a cup of tea and a sandwich can lead to tips on beautiful viewpoints and walks nearby, or the discovery of mouthwatering local delicacies. Did you know that Pershore has an annual plum festival? Or that Dalemain hosts international marmalade awards?
For us, these chats (alongside tasty, homemade morsels and the knowledge that we’re supporting grassroots local enterprises) really enrich a journey.
To underline our point, we’ve delved into the back stories of a handful of our selected venues to reveal how they started out, what makes them tick and the local ethos that makes them special.
First up, we’d like to introduce you to Amanda Gresham, co-owner of the farm cafe + shop in Marlesford, Suffolk.
What can people expect at the farm cafe + shop?
The farm cafe is a roadside caff that takes its food very seriously. Our talented chefs create delicious home made dishes in the cafe kitchens including all our pies, cakes, pudding, quiches, casseroles, salads, fishcakes, and burgers in addition to a range of “made by us” ready meals available to take home from our shop. The ingredients we use are fresh, local and the source well known to us. We strive to cater for all customers for breakfast, lunch, or simply coffee and cake with a menu that includes healthy and hearty dishes made with little salt and no additives suitable for committed carnivores, vegetarians, vegans, coeliacs, and just plain fussy kids! We supplement the menu dishes with a good selection of daily specials which reflect the seasonal availability of our local produce. We are dog friendly, fully accessible by the disabled, offer free wifi and a variety of newspapers and magazines to peruse. We hope to be an oasis on the A12 to the weary traveller and the savvy local alike.
Who are the people behind farm cafe?
The farm cafe was started by Paul Thomas now retired. I took over with Paul Elmer in 2016. Paul is a local businessman with years of experience in retail while I have worked for a number of years in accounting but previously worked in hospitality and am passionate about good food.
How did you arrive at the helm?
We first found the farm cafe one Sunday morning while we were out walking with our dog, Alfie. Not only was the cafe totally dog friendly but it served the best breakfast we’d eaten in a very long time. We really liked the ethos behind the food that was being served – the best local ingredients freshly cooked to order in a relaxed atmosphere – and became regular customers and, when Paul Thomas decided to retire and the business came up for sale, we decided to buy it and continue the good work that had already been started.
What were you doing before?
Running a retail business and we’re still doing it! The farm cafe has simply been added into the mix.
Where does your food come from?
We have about 100 fantastic suppliers who provide us with delicious mostly local produce. For example, our Suffolk breakfast items comprise bread for toast which is delivered fresh each morning from a bakery in Woodbridge less than 8 miles away from the cafe, our eggs come from a small free range local flock about 11 miles away from the cafe, our dry cured back bacon is from free range local pigs maturing right here in Suffolk, and our sausages are made for us by an award winning butcher in Wickham Market less than 3 miles away using the same local free range pork as used for our bacon.
What’s your food philosophy?
We are not a fast food operation. We believe we use the best local quality ingredients from fish landed on the coast at Aldeburgh about 10 miles from the cafe to asparagus grown on the banks of the River Deben less than 9 miles from the cafe. We want our customers to taste the fresh flavour of just cooked quality food so we simply cook to order. It may take a little longer at times but we believe the payoff is worth it and we hope our customers agree.
What’s your favourite snack for car journeys?
We would choose something like the cheesy bites, shortbread, or sausage rolls our chefs make for sale in our shop to take with us as part of a picnic for a long journey. But it’s also good to resist temptation, not have anything with us at all and stop by some of the suggestions in the Extra Mile as we’re passing.
(Photos by the farm cafe + shop)