28 March 2008, 15:04 PM
  • Sarah Townsend at Relish Food & Drinks in Wadebridge comes back on an unusual Easter

“As anyone who listens to the radio, watches television or uses the internet knows, this year’s Easter was the earliest for nearly a century. And, combined with terrible weather, this has given us at Relish a new bunch of issues to deal with.

Firstly, I think Cornwall as a whole has become overly dependent on seasonal, fickle tourism. Luckily, Relish Food & Drink is in the middle of Wadebridge, a thriving market town, which has a sizeable permanent population. We are fortunate to have a good local customer base capable of supporting us. Being inland of the tourist-rich coastal strip where winters are disturbingly quiet and summers are over run and commercialised is another advantage.

When the holidays happen, however, the Emmets turn up en masse and make a big dent in our stocks and put our staff under a peculiar sort of pressure. But it’s a little trickier than that. If the weather’s too good they stay on the coast, if it’s too bad they stay indoors. We need it just in the middle: when they don’t feel like a day at the beach, but don’t mind a walk in town.

So, this Easter the most obvious problem was the weather. Winter was fairly innocuous and not a week went by without café customers eating lunch outside in the courtyard. But in the run up to Easter, Cornwall was hit by an epic storm (look up Polzeath on YouTube and you’ll see). The weathermen said it was the worst for 25 years. Our tables were being blown all over the courtyard and the Easter weekend looked doomed, especially with forecasts of Arctic winds and snow on the way. Our footfall in the deli is generated in no small part by our café. Bad weather has the few adventurous customers we get huddling down over coffee, rather than sitting in the courtyard gazing into the deli window. And, a reliable portent of the season to come, ice cream sales, have proven a damp squib.

A second problem was the age old chestnut of what to buy and how much of it. The supermarkets dominate the market, bombarding shoppers months before the event with ten-foot stacks of over-packaged, brand-led products sold for half the price we could buy them for. We had to scour the speciality market for more expensive, higher quality produce to give us a point of difference.

The proximity of Valentine’s Day and Easter meant we were buying romantic pink chocolate and heart shaped cheeses at the same time as we were buying Easter eggs on sticks and chocolate bunny rabbits. We then had to try to show them off without confusing the customers.

The other problem was the school holidays. Usually Easter is followed by a couple of hectic weeks during which it’s all hands on deck - our ‘hands’ being our six full-time employees, as seasonal staff don’t join us until after the May bank holidays. We stock up the cheese counter and stagger through the days in the sure knowledge that it won’t last long before it settles back to regulars and familiars and the shoulder seasons known tongue-in-cheek as the ‘newly weds and nearly deads’.

This year we’ve had a short, very sharp bank holiday and because Easter was early almost everyone has gone home again. Kids aren’t getting their holidays for a few weeks yet and then they’ll be spread over nearly five weeks. So, rather than a solid, predictable session we’re left wondering what’s going to happen. With luck it’ll mean an early cash boost, a short breathing space and then a longer, smoother kid’s holiday than our usual. Five decent weeks should be better than two crazy ones… we’re hoping.”