Have you ever met a Mrs Featherstone, the character played by Stephanie Cole in TV’s Open All Hours, or one of those elderly and very traditional rumbustious ladies in All Creatures Great and Small? You know the type, that sees something different and immediately thinks it won’t work.
Anita Tasker felt the full force of such a character when she opened a new enterprise in the former village shop in the rural community of Welburn, North Yorkshire.
“The first lady who came in here six years ago took one look at our cakes and asked me ‘who do you think you are putting on fancy stuff in a village like this’ and that didn’t I realise that Yorkshire folk wanted plain things.”
Whether the person concerned ever set foot in Pattacakes again is another matter but what she will have been unaware of at the time is the drive and conviction Anita has in making a success out of whatever she tries.
“In my careers meeting at school I was told that I wouldn’t be able to become an air stewardess, but I became one. I took over a sandwich shop in Stamford Bridge because of my persistence, and so I wasn’t going to be deterred by her words. If you want something you get on with it. I decided there and then that I was going to change minds and attitudes and bring something a little bit different to this lovely village.
“This was a rundown defunct village shop where the post office had closed down years before. My husband Richard and I were having supper with my hairdresser who lives in the village and he casually popped into the conversation that the shop was up for sale. He knew that I was looking for a new challenge. I’d been involved with a large catering company in York, but had always wanted to run my own business”
Richard was reluctant at first but decided to back his wife’s convictions.
“We put our house on the line and took out a business loan that was far too big for me on my own. I was scared to death when I signed on the bottom line and then just knew I had to make it work.
“It has been the most fun and best journey I have ever had. Our first year was slow but from the second year onwards we have become a destination business. Whilst our customers were initially more of the retired generation we now attract all ages. Families come with their children and we have been able to offer much greater variety and be more adventurous with our cakes and other offerings. We still keep on with the Victoria sponge cake and others that you would expect but we have had success with all sorts of cakes.
“When we first started one of my aims was that I wanted people to take our cakes home and they do. It makes me feel so good when that happens. They’re taking something we’ve made here.
“We have also found that our take-out business has soared. We get everyone from lorry drivers wanting our roast ham or roast beef sandwiches to local businessmen and women who want the same but make the point of coming from Malton to us. We also cook a Yorkshire breakfast for those who want to come in and sit down too.
“We couldn’t buy any local bread that we really liked so we decided to start baking our own, as well as the cakes and tarts. Emma (pictured in the kitchen) has won three awards for her pastries and cakes; and Carol makes all the breads. She’d never done it before. We all spent time with Thierry Dumouchel who has his own patisserie in Garforth and whenever we’ve needed his help he’s always been there for us.
“We now run courses in breadmaking and people who take part go away with such a smile on their faces.
“Richard’s work with York Livestock Centre means that I am able to source the most amazing meat and other products from the county and that means we know the provenance of everything we use. Asparagus comes into season in the next few months and we have a local supplier in Sand Hutton.
“Yorkshire is such a wonderful county and since I have stood alongside other producers at farmers’ markets for the past ten years I make a point of using their produce in Pattacakes.
“As well as our meats I know where our honey, flour, butter and eggs come from and the provenance of everything we use is my little soapbox.”
Anita’s team of seven staff include a former maths teacher, a former pub landlady and another ex-air stewardess. Four of the team come from Welburn.
Just across from Pattacakes is The Crown & Cushion public house. It was taken over and reopened seven months ago by Provenance Inns who follow the same maxim as Anita and are committed to Yorkshire produce. They’ve already built a significant reputation with pubs they have taken on in villages throughout the county since 2010.
Head chef Ben Turner and general manager John Glover say they have been encouraged by the success they have had since August: “This place was the equivalent of a demolition site when we came but it is now back to being a really good pub and restaurant. We pride ourselves on the quality of what we serve.”
Some villages in rural parts of the country may well be struggling to keep their pub or shop business alive but here in Welburn, both Pattacakes and The Crown & Cushion are proving that rural business can thrive in some style.