Love at first bite for visitors to superstar Sally’s South Walsham tearoom

Thursday, January 31, 2013
6:30 AM

For a Norfolk attraction’s hungry hordes of visitors it has been a case of love at first bite for more than a quarter of a century.

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Tearoom manager Sally Randell’s homemade scones are regularly scored ‘12 out of 10’ by one loyal visitor to Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden, while a holidaymaker who makes an annual pilgrimage to the South Walsham beauty spot faithfully writes in the comments book that her jacket potatoes are “the best in Norfolk”.

Through nearly 26 years and three incarnations of the tearoom, from the first tiny wooden hut to the present airy “green” salon, Sally’s cheery welcome has certainly made her a local lunchtime legend.

But now her fame has spread far and wide after reaching the final shortlist of 10 in VisitEngland’s national competition to find the tourism superstar for 2013.

The tourism accolade was launched last year as part of English Tourism Week - this year running from March 16 to 24 - to recognise the dedication and passion of those working in the industry.

Fairhaven manager Louise Rout, who nominated Sally, said: “We are really proud of her achievement. It shows we are not the only people who think she is special.”

She said Sally loved talking to visitors and knew exactly what they wanted - although she was still not afraid to try new recipes and enlist customers as her guinea pigs.

Louise, who began her time at Fairhaven as a 13-year-old working under Sally in the kitchen, said: “She is pleased to see every customer, whether it is a busy or a quiet day, and that has encouraged a build-up of loyal regulars. One party of garden season ticket holders from Bradwell comes here two or three times a week for lunch.

“She works really hard to cater for everyone, including offering gluten free food, vegan and diabetic cakes. She really does go the extra mile.”

Sally, 60, of Oakfield Drive, South Walsham, said it was lovely to be nominated but insisted the tearoom’s success was very much down to teamwork.

“There is a family atmosphere and we are all in it together,” she said.

The mother of two, who has a two-year-old grandson Tommy, said: “When I started in 1987 it was just a tiny cabin with four tables.

“In those days, Beryl, the wife of former garden manager George Debbage, used to bake cakes and scones and the emphasis has always been on homemade.”

The present green tearoom, which has a ground source heat pump and solar panels, opened five years heralding a new modern era.

Sally said: “We still make scones daily and our homemade soups are popular; in the summer most of our salad vegetables are picked from the kitchen garden round the back.”

She is proud of the fact that some of the customers she served when she started are still coming today.

“We get regular groups of cyclists who plan their routes to stop off here. Sometimes the tearoom is half full with them,” she said.

Nick Bond, head of tourism at VisitNorwich, said: “We are extremely proud that Sally has been shortlisted for this prestigious award. She is clearly dedicated and passionate about her role at Fairhaven and it’s great her story is being told on a national level.”

The winner will be invited to attend VisitEngland’s Awards for Excellence held in May.

Public voting for the award will begin next month when people will be able to support Sally by logging on to the website fairhavengarden.co.uk and following a link.

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