Photo gallery: City’s historic cookshop is voted as the very best in Britain

Claire-Louise Crane, owner of Loose's, and Chris Smith, manager, after winning Britain's Best Cookshop award. Picture: Denise Bradley Claire-Louise Crane, owner of Loose's, and Chris Smith, manager, after winning Britain's Best Cookshop award. Picture: Denise Bradley

Tuesday, April 15, 2014
11:13 AM

A family-run independent business that has been in Norwich for more than 200 years has just been named the best of its kind in the country.

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Loose's manager, Chris Smith, with some of the staff after winning Britain's Best Cookshop award. From left, Sue Youngs, Sarah Stewart, Sam Butcher, Nicola Wild, and Merrion Rice. Picture: Denise BradleyLoose's manager, Chris Smith, with some of the staff after winning Britain's Best Cookshop award. From left, Sue Youngs, Sarah Stewart, Sam Butcher, Nicola Wild, and Merrion Rice. Picture: Denise Bradley

Loose’s Cookshop, which was founded by Jimmy Loose in Magdalen Street in 1791, has been crowned Britain’s Best Cookshop by industry professionals.

After being shortlisted in the Housewares Innovation Award for the last few years, owners and staff at the shop were delighted to scoop the top prize at a ceremony in Reading.

Bruce Crane, whose grandfather bought the business in 1933, owns the shop, which is now in Orford Yard, with his wife, Claire-Louise.

He said a combination of factors had led to their success – both in winning the award and surviving on the high street.

A store with a long history of success

Loose’s was opened by Jimmy Loose in 1791 as a hardware shop in Magdalen Street.

Gerald Brett bought the company in 1933. It then started specialising in china and glass.

During the early years of the Second World War, when children were evacuated from London to Great Yarmouth, Loose’s received 24 hours notice to supply 20,000 cups.

The Magdalen Street shop was completely gutted by a bomb in 1942. Mr Brett rebuilt the business on the same site.

In the Coronation year of 1952, Loose’s had 50,000 pieces on hire all over the country.

Mr Brett’s son, Michael, took over the shop in 1990.

Loose’s current owner, Bruce Crane, bought the business from his uncle in 2004, after working there since 1985.

The company opened a cook shop in 2000 - with the china, glass and gifts on the first

floor.

The company has been in two local families since it started 223 years ago.

The original shop also had a glass roof – cuttings from the Eastern Daily Press show it was “situated in what appeared to be a large conservatory” and that “from beside a water soak grew an enormous vine, which ultimately spread along the entire shop”. Jimmy Loose is said to have given bunches of grapes from the vine to customers - although most went to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

Although the former shop in Magdalen Street still bears the Loose’s signs, the premises have not been connected to the current business since 2004.

“It’s to do with service and range of choice,” said Mr Crane.

“There are very few cookshops of our size in a city centre – usually because it is too expensive.

“Other independent cookshops tend to be a lot smaller than ours. We are a niche retailer, it’s not easy but we have a formula and it’s working in quite a difficult retail climate.”

Moving with the times has been an important part of Loose’s business plan.

Originally a hardware shop, it then specialised in china and glass, and now sells cookware and cake crafts.

Shop manager Chris Smith said the recent trend in home baking and celebrity chefs had been good for the business.

“There has been a big rise in making cakes and bread thanks to Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood,” he said.

“Anything that Mary has used is really popular – we sell a lot of enamel bakeware and I’m sure that is a direct result of her using it on TV.”

Baking is so popular that the first floor of the shop is almost entirely dedicated to cake crafts.

“People in other parts of the country say cupcakes went out of fashion a long time ago and got replaced by macarons and now probably something else,” said Mr Smith.

“But here in Norfolk cupcakes are still going strong.”

It is not only changing fashions that has kept the shop moving.

In 1999, Mr Crane went out to look for a new location for the business, which had always been in Magdalen Street.

“When Mr Loose opened the shop in 1791, Magdalen Street was the main shopping street in the city centre,” he said.

“But the whole city centre has moved south along where the A11 comes in – to the St Stephen’s Street area.

“What was clear when I joined the business was that Magdalen Street wasn’t the prime area – we had to bring the customers to us or move to them.”

He then found the Grade II-listed former stables in Orford Yard and a major building project, including a glass atrium, got under way.

“A lot of our customers say ‘I love this shop, I could spend hours in here’,” said Mr Crane.

“You can see it’s not just another box on the high street. It’s owned and run by people who have a real passion for their field.”

Staff at the shop were also praised for their role in the shop’s success.

“We are all keen cooks and we all have areas of cooking we are interested in,” said Mr Smith. “We know our stuff, we really pride ourselves on our service.”

The last few years have been challenging for independent retailers, but Mr Crane said Norwich was lucky to have so many which had survived.

“The independent sector is still under pressure,” he said. “Our biggest competition is still the internet. It’s very easy to sit at home and do your shopping without having to leave the comfort of your armchair.

“The challenge is to create an online business that customers can appreciate.

“At Loose’s, we really have a willingness and ability to change. You don’t survive from 1791 by accident. We are able to recognise the trends and put in a plan to optimise the gain and minimise our weaknesses.”

Have you got a success story to share? Email catherine.morris-gretton@archant.co.uk

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