It’s a Ritz-style B&B in Fritton
When Karen and Paul Wilder first set eyes on a derelict stables block it was difficult to see its potential - but less than four years later they are delivering Ritz-style luxury in the heart of the Norfolk countryside.
The couple are this week toasting the double accolade of being granted four-star gold status for their B&B and clinching a coveted breakfast award in VisitBritain's Enjoy England quality scheme.
That the unannounced inspector was wowed by her breakfast of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon at Decoy Barn in Fritton, near Great Yarmouth should come as no real surprise - for hostess Karen's father Gerd Rogner used to be head chef at London's Ritz hotel.
Karen, 48, was herself a waitress at the Ritz and it was in that palatial setting that she met her husband Paul, 66, who was a casino director.
The couple's B&B - really too humble a word for a place where you can eat breakfast al fresco contemplating views of the Somerleyton estate - has even imported a taste of luxury from the bastion of the world's elite in the shape of dining room chairs from the capital's renowned Les Ambassadeurs Club.
Karen, who is proud to have picked up cooking tips from her father over the years, was thrilled when she was phoned by Yarmouth tourism's Kirsty Burn who congratulated her on becoming the first B&B in Yarmouth borough - one of the true national homes of the B&B - to win a breakfast award.
She said: 'The awards put a big emphasis on local produce and we get our bacon and sausages from Bradwell Butchery and our duck eggs from the Yarmouth egg man. We also use Norfolk Preserves in Yarmouth.'
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The build-up to the unannounced judging was a nervous period - and they never guessed who the judge was until she announced herself after breakfast.
The couple, who have an eight-year-old daughter, Rosie, ran a pub in Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds for five years before looking for a more manageable B&B when Paul's health declined.
They had combed the country looking for a suitable property and nearly ended up buying one in Dover before they saw an estate agent's details for the derelict stables and neighbouring barn conversion in Fritton.
Paul, a self-confessed 'bag carrier' who leaves running the business to his wife, recalled: 'It was after a few drinks and chatting to the locals in the pub over the road that we saw the potential for a B&B. The A146 was obviously very busy and where was the nearest other B&B?
Paul, who rubbed shoulders with such magnates at Sir Hugh Fraser and Robert Maxwell during his time with London Clubs, said they had striven to emulate the highest standards with little touches such as genuine crystal glasses.
The couple, who opened for business at the end of 2007, have swiftly risen through the ranks from four-star to four-star silver and four-star gold.
Paul, whose son Chris, from his first marriage, is the manager of Oxford United football club, said: 'Initially we had quite a jaundiced view of Yarmouth, but since joining the tourist authority we have realised the amount of potential there is here.'
They have already welcomed such celebrity guests as the team from the Antiques Roadshow and have built up solid repeat custom from all over Britain, including an increasing volume of several-night trade.
Paul said: 'We have not really touched business trade from Yarmouth's Gapton Hall and Harfrey's industrial estates yet and we see that as a way of growing the business quickly during the winter months.'