“You know that you are living many people’s dream “ said my husband one day - and I agreed.
People who are passionate about good food, often fantasise about one day owning and running their own restaurant. It is, however, not always quite what they imagine it will be...
We started our restaurant, Clavelshay Barn, 10 years ago, converting a redundant stone barn beside our house into a country-style restaurant. I had run a farmhouse Bed & Breakfast while our 3 children were growing up and used to provide evening meals for the guests. Demand for the meals grew and this started a seed of thought. I used to love cooking and then chatting to the guests after their meal and when the children couldn’t find me, I was usually having a glass of wine with the guests.
The foot and mouth crisis made us think about the future and we looked at what other business we could run from the farm. I have always been passionate about good local food and thought that the barn would make an ideal restaurant. We found an enthusiastic bank manager who supported us despite the fact that we had no experience and no money. We applied for a grant from DEFRA under the Rural Enterprise Scheme and were fortunate to receive a grant to help with the conversion costs.
Building work took 6 months and we were ready to open. Slight hitch when the chef we appointed changed his mind a week before the opening so we had to look again and delay the opening.
How naïve was I when we started! I really had no idea that the business would take over my life completely. I think about food all day and in the middle of the night. If I am not thinking about food, it is customers, staff, table numbers, orders, menus, the next function, the next wedding …
Our ethos has always been to provide good food, sourced locally wherever possible, supporting other small business in the community. We wanted to use produce from the farm too and have pork, veal, rabbits, eggs, salads, herbs on the menu.
We have been awarded a Gold Taste of West Award in 2015 in recognition of our commitment to local food. We belong to the Sustainable Restaurant Association and have been awarded 3 stars – the maximum award, for 3 years running, which we are a very proud of.
We have a small team , led in the kitchen by Head Chef Phil Verden, who is producing food which I am so proud of. It gives me such pleasure to serve great looking food and to return empty plates to the kitchen.
It is a great feeling to serve a dish where I know the provenance of every ingredient. The wild garlic pesto is made from garlic I picked in the woods at Cothelstone.
What have I learnt in the past 10 years?
I have finally learnt to let go a little and to delegate. I now let the accountant do my VAT instead of struggling with it and always being late with the returns. I have a cleaner one day a week to take care of the house, instead of trying to do it all on my day off. I also make sure I get away for at least a couple of hours from the house and restaurant on my day off – to get away from the phone and e-mails.
I can now organise a wedding and help prepare food for 100 without blinking. Wedding in 9 weeks time – no problem! 6 weddings in 7 weeks – bring it on!
Many customers have now become friends and we have shared wine, laughter and the odd tear. I have organised many weddings and it gives me great pleasure to see my couples come back with their babies. I love it when customers say coming here is like going to dinner with friends !
We live in a beautiful, idyllic valley on the edge of the Quantock Hills which we love and enjoy sharing together with our fantastic local food. I have a lovely family and a job which I love and would not change for anything.
Living the dream – yes, I am.
Thank you all for sharing it with me, – it has been a great 10 years.