By Betsy Everett
A café opened just 15 months ago at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes has reached the finals of the White Rose Awards for the top tourist attractions in Yorkshire.
The Firebox Café at Stage1 Cycles, run by Helen Pollard and Mike Allenby, neither of whom had any previous experience of catering, is competing with five others for the Taste of Yorkshire award.
“We’re very excited to be part of a cohort of fantastic Wensleydale businesses which have been shortlisted in so many different categories,” said Helen. “When you see what a wide area the awards cover it’s amazing how many are from this small corner of the county.”
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Helen and Mike won the franchise to run the café as part of the cycle hire and training business which they started in their home village of Askrigg in July 2014 to coincide with the Grand Départ of the Tour de France.
They moved to the Hawes station site as the business expanded and decided the café would be the perfect partner for the venture.
Said Helen: “The two business are essentially linked and mutually support each other. The Firebox is essential for many of our scheduled cycling activities and independent cyclists expect good food and coffee during the break from their rides.”
The café also caters for the museum’s day visitors as well as those attending its conferences, workshops and other daytime activities.
“We have something to suit all visitors, on two wheels or two feet. We also aim to be friendly to families and those with small appetites. Virtually all our food is made from scratch on site or is locally-sourced. The only cake we don’t make is Crockett’s fruit cake,” she adds.
Meat is from Nigel Hammond, family butcher in Bainbridge, jams and chutneys from Derek Kettlewell at Raydale Preserves in Stalling Busk, Wensleydale Ice-cream from Adrian and Gill Harrison at Thornton Rust.
Emily Pickard of Aysgarth is the full-time cook at the Firebox, supported by Lindsey Whaley.
“We have deliberately focused on employing local people and have been very lucky to secure two excellent cooking staff,” says Helen.
Special diets are catered for – vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free – and the menu is a contemporary mix of options: generous portions, well-cooked, is the simple key to success. Traditional cakes are the most popular: lemon drizzle, carrot cake and flapjack topping the list.
“There’s definitely a move away from over-coloured, dramatic, large cakes which can lack taste,” she says. “For the Yorkshire Dales to be considered a destination for visitors to stay beyond a couple of hours or a day we need to ensure we are offering them great experiences and food and that’s what we try to do.”
Mike and his dad, Sam Allenby from Mike’s home town of Hull, fitted out the shop from scratch. Bikes hang from the ceiling and cycling socks and accessories are on sale at the counter: it’s a practical, typically Yorkshire approach that has proved a recipe for success.
The Dales Countryside Museum is also among the finalists in the 2017 awards, in the art and culture section, for the Spear installation at Semerwater.
Other local businesses which have been shortlisted include Low Mill Guest House, Bainbridge (guest accommodation of the year), the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes (large attraction), Yorebridge House, Bainbridge (outstanding customer service, and small hotel categories), and Cottage in the Dales at Newbiggin in Bishopdale (self-catering accommodation) which was the voted Visit England’s UK winner earlier this year.