When they began to phase out, Sarah Howson saw an opportunity to bring the English countryside tearoom back to life in the Croyde community.
Located just yards from the sea in Croyde, North Devon, Sandleigh Tea Room offers a seasonal lunchtime menu and also serves traditional afternoon tea.
This small family business was founded five years ago in May 2010 by Sarah Howson and her partner.
The tearoom is located on the busy Baggy Point walking route, making it a very popular place for tourists.
“Years ago there used to be lots of tearooms in Croyde, but they’ve all closed down”, says Sarah.
At the time of opening “there wasn’t really much in the way of anything like what we’re offering” she says, “so I thought it was a good place to start something up”.
The Birth of Sandleigh
Sarah first came across what would later become her tearoom as a teenager, whilst working in a hotel opposite the building.
“It was a fairly derelict building with a flat above”, she says.
“I’d look over the wall and think it was a redundant space; I thought it was a waste”.
A few years passed and, whilst browsing for a new home, Sarah came across the opportunity to own the building.
“I wasn’t thinking about necessarily opening up anything but, as I saw it and I knew the building, I couldn’t resist applying”, says Sarah.
Owned by the National Trust, the building was originally let out as a house for 20 years before the tenants moved out.
“When the tenant moved out, [The National Trust] decided they wanted to let it as a business, and they put it out for tender to local people to come up with ideas of what it should be,” says Sarah.
After bidding on the property, – along with 60 other locals – Sarah’s idea to turn the old coach-house into a tearoom was chosen.
Together with the National Trust – who funded Sarah’s idea – Sarah and her partner converted the building into a beautiful tearoom with a stunning wall garden.
“We converted the downstairs – which was a stable block and a coach house – into the tearoom and kitchen”, she says.
Sarah took the inspiration for her English country garden-esque tearoom and garden from an old rose bush she found in the courtyard during the early stages of renovation.
“We’ve got a courtyard space as well and the colours [and] inspiration [for] the set up were taken from the rose bush”, she says.
After applying for funding from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Sarah and her partner decided to turn their wall garden into a community garden.
“We grow a lot of our veg in the garden for the tearoom and we also give out small spaces to the local community, so people that don’t have enough space in their own garden can come here and grow their own veg”, says Sarah.
One of The Chosen Few
In the garden behind the tearoom is Sandleigh’s “slightly edgier” sibling – The Oyster Catcher.
The Oyster Catcher is a purpose-built shop selling quality gifts and homeware, and it’s also an approved stockist of Annie Sloan’s popular chalk paint.
“People will travel to buy the paint”, says Sarah, “and [Annie] only handpicks certain suppliers; you have to apply to be able to sell it”.
“Everything [we offer] is about quality”, says Sarah, and quality is her main reason for choosing Carrier Bag Shop as her primary packaging provider.
Sarah believes that personalised packaging is a great added tool that small businesses can utilise to make their brand recognisable.
She says that being in a holiday destination means this is especially important for her business, as people like to return home with a souvenir to remember their holiday by.
“We have a rubber stamp which we stamp on the outside [of the bags] and it’s got its own identity and people recognise it’s from The Oyster Catcher”, she says.
It’s clear that Sandleigh Tea Room is unique from other businesses of its kind, with its purpose-built shop and local community garden.
“We’re quite lucky that we’re already in a very busy place”, says Sarah.
“I think we’ve got unique position; we’re in an area of outstanding natural beauty”, says Sarah.
We’d would like to thank Sarah for using Carrier Bag Shop for her gift bags and packaging.
If we’re ever in Croyde, we’ll be sure to pop by for a scone or two!
You can also see a virtual tour of the tearoom, garden and Oyster Catcher shop here.