18 January 2002

TEAROOMATTHETOP

A strong farming theme is

part of the recipe for

success at one "top"

Yorkshire tearoom, as

Tom Mongomery discovers

WHEN Janet Cartwright wanted a purpose-built farmhouse tearoom where she could serve homemade cakes from real butter and cream from the familys cows, she turned to the "do-it-yourself" gang.

This "firm" of construction specialists comprised her dad – farmer Gordon Dearnley – and his friend and helper Brian Matthews.

Working in their spare time, they built a shop, dining area and kitchen (with a walk-in freezer) from stone and concrete blocks in just three months. They did everything except the electrics.

When it was called a top tearoom by a local television station, customers descended like "a plague of locusts". There wasnt a crumb left and so, to replenish supplies and allow her to snatch some time to go on a cheesemaking course, Janet baked solidly for a week. Day and evening!

Milk bottles have helped spread the fame of the Dearne Lea Tearoom at Barkhouse Farm, Shelley near Huddersfield. Twenty retailers buy their milk from Gordon and every one of the bottles carries an advert for the enterprise.

"Lost ones turn up in surprising places – one has been reported in Devon," says Janet. "But that and word-of-mouth has built up our trade. We have done very little advertising."

Janet is the first to admit she is not a farmers daughter with a "hands-on" approach to agriculture. She helped when she was younger – but her choice of career was the Civil Service, where she worked for 15 years. She now lives in the village with her husband Paul and sons James (9) and Thomas (3).

Wanting a change – and with an ambition to be her own boss – she asked her dad if she could make icecream and sell it from the farm. With all the equipment, some advice and a days training, she was off. Well, nearly off! Selling to restaurants and hotels wasnt too successful. The take-away cornet and tub trade was better – but it fell off in winter. And that is when Janet got the idea for a tearoom.

It seats around 50 and, besides herself, employs 16 part-time staff. A range of homemade cakes are served, along with 15 different types of icecream.

It is very much part of a working farm, attached to the dairy and bottling plant. Viewing facilities enable visitors to see the cows being milked.

Their cakes are made from the same fresh milk and it goes in their coffee. If they sit outside at the picnic tables, they have cows for company in the next field.

Discerning regulars, meanwhile, will have noticed the dairy herd slowly changing colour from black-and-white to red-and-white. This is because Gordon is changing cows from Holsteins to Meuse-Rhine-Issels. "Bad legs and bad feet – thats the problem with Holsteins, although I have had some good ones," he says.

After purchasing a MRI bull and heifer in Somerset, he went to Holland three

times on buying trips. Hes now built up a pedigree stock of 150 (about half his herd) and is gradually phasing the Holsteins out.

He gets slightly less milk from the MRIs, but they are improving, and they provide a lovely thick cream for the tearooms gateaux. Their big advantage, he says, is they are a lot less problematic. "Theyll live on cake and silage."

Gordon has built up the farm from 2.4ha (6 acres) and a house bought 40 years ago for £550. He now has 102ha (250 acres) and his son Michael, helping him. Betty, his wife, does the books.

His building expertise has been gained the hard way. He put up all his own barns, tractor sheds and milking parlour. His self-constructed dairy was only one of three in the country that met EEC standards on farms when first built 10 years ago.

Gordon has now put in plans to extend the tearoom to seat 65 and enlarge the shop so Janet can display her cheeses which will include some from old recipes. The kitchen is already undergoing a transformation from having painted walls to becoming all stainless steel.

While it is part of the farm business, the Dearne Lee Tearoom is managed by Janet, who has a free hand. Business is now picking up after it had to close last Easter for nine weeks due to foot-and-mouth.

A customer who makes a 20-mile round-trip every day to eat there said he did it because "it is very friendly, very clean and serves good food".