SUPPORT OUR SHOPS: French connection at vintage tea shop in Long Sutton
Marian “Mal” Jenkins is making sure that her tea shop occupies a place in Long Sutton and its people that has survived for more than 30 years.
Mal’s Vintage Tea Shop, in Market Place, has carried the same standards of friendly customer service in a relaxed atmosphere that Pat’s Flowers did when it traded at the same premises.
The shop has become an art and craft meeting point in Long Sutton where people can look at each other’s work, share ideas, create new ones and chat over a cup of tea or coffee
In fact, Mal’s dream of running her own tea shop was spurred on by retired Long Sutton florist Pat Pitkin, who passed away in February, and her son Lloyd.
Derek Lee, a volunteer at the tea shop, said: “Mal saw the vintage tea shop idea in France where she ran a guest house with her husband Michael.
“They were in France for 14 years, but they intended to come back to England and move to Norfolk.
“In the end, they found a house in Gedney Dyke and settled well there as they loved the local area.
“But Mal wanted to bring a part of France over here by carrying on the theme of afternoon teas so she got someone to come in and design the shop for her after Pat Pitkin retired.
“Nearly all of the furniture has been reupholstered and people think it’s very nice.”
Mal, originally from Essex, has spent the last ten months creating an array of cakes, sandwiches, themed teas and coffees to attract people from the area and visitors passing through Long Sutton.
Guests at the tea shop will be surrounded by a collection of hand-made greetings cards, dolls, teddy bears, jewellery and paintings, all created by talented artists and craftspeople from the area.
Mal said: “I wanted to give people a communal location where local artists could showcase their beautiful items and sell their work.
“The shop has become an art and craft meeting point in Long Sutton where people can look at each other’s work, share ideas, create new ones and chat over a cup of tea or coffee.”
The UK cafe and coffee shop industry is worth £6.2 billion a year, according to research by international business analysts IBISWorld.
Despite being a part of the British high street for nearly 400 years, the mid-1990s was widely seen as the start of an “explosion” in coffee shops across the UK.
Derek said: “Compared to when the tea shop first started, business has gradually picked up and now Mal is doing very well.
“But it’s still a new business that has only been on the go for ten months, so it has to build up a reputation as a reputable business.
“She works very hard and puts in an awful lot of hours, baking cakes, scones, jacket potatoes and coming up with themed teas like Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
“We have customers from Spalding and Wisbech, along with people who come through Long Sutton from other places and call in on the way to their holiday destination.
“People think that the shop takes them back to their younger days, with the old-fashioned cups, saucers and plates.
“But no matter how diverse the people who come into the shop are, Mal takes care of them and treats everybody as being someone special.”
The cutlery, serviettes, tablecloths, cups, saucers, plates and furniture inside Mal’s Vintage Tea Shop are all designed to revive a bygone era for Long Sutton.
Volunteer Derek Lee said: “It’s meant to have a home from home feel, with all the comforts that make you feel like you’re walking into somebody’s living room from years ago.
“There are no employees here and the people who come in to help during the week do so on a voluntary basis because of Mal who is a such lovely lady.”
One of the tea shop’s customers is South Holland and the Deepings MP, John Hayes who described it as “the antithesis of Starbucks“.
Mr Hayes said: “I’ve been to Mal’s Vintage Tea Room and it’s lovely to see the business set up at what had been Pat’s Flowers, a much-loved shop in Long Sutton.
“The great fear about shops closing is that they remain closed so it’s a cause for joy when a new shop opens quickly.
“Mal’s shop is a wonderful tea room, very homely and everything there is home-made which makes it great to have such a shop in Long Sutton.
“What’s also nice is that it’s not like one of those identikit tea shops that seem to populate so many of our towns.
“It’s the antithesis of Starbucks and everything that an old-fashioned tea shop ought to be.”