Loyal Customers - Old Market Cafe
Rob Smith, Old Market Cafe - Dartmouth
How Regulars Stayed True To Their Camped-Out Café
No-one can have missed the work going on at Dartmouth Market. The historic Market Square is being refurbished and the results of the make-over will be revealed soon.
It’s been a period of upheaval for the businesses based in the shops around the Market Square. Many have had to make other arrangements. The hardware shop moved into a tent, the Over 60s Rest Rooms relocated to the Guildhall, and the Old Market Café set up temporary home in the Ivy Lane Youth Centre.
Café proprietor Rob Smith said he and his wife Collette had been overwhelmed by the loyalty of customers who followed them into unfamiliar surroundings.
“We are so lucky to have such fantastic loyal regulars who have continued to support us at this difficult time,” he said.
“We couldn’t believe it when everyone appeared through the door on our first day. We’re really grateful to have the use of the youth centre but it is tucked away and we weren’t sure whether our customers would just move on to other cafes.
“We can only offer a limited menu. We are only open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10am until 2pm, so no breakfasts, no cappuccino machine, no window onto the street to watch the world go by. And yet we have had to put out more and more tables as the weeks have gone by. I can’t thank everyone enough.”
Rob and Collette, who live in Victoria Road and have run the Old Market Café for four years, regularly seat 20 to 25 people for lunch twice a week in the youth centre, and are taking bookings a fortnight in advance. The huge kitchen in the centre is beautifully equipped with three big ovens, so that young people can study for cookery qualifications. It’s been a lifesaver for Rob, who uses them to cook his Tuesday steak and kidney or shepherds pie, and Friday roast dinners.
Busy serving coffee and pots of tea to a steady stream of customers, all of whom he knew by name, Rob said: “We are really grateful to Matt Pink and everyone at the Youth Service in Dartmouth for letting us come in here. January was a bleak month when we had to pack up the café and watch it be pulled apart.
Thank goodness we had some savings, because with no income it looked like being a very difficult year. A long-planned trip to Disneyland with our children had to be put off. Then Collette had the idea of coming in here and these two days a week have made a real difference to us – to our spirits as much as anything.
“To see all our familiar faces coming in week after week is brilliant – and, you know, it’s funny too, because when we’re in the café everyone has their favourite tables and we know where they will choose to sit; and within a week of coming in here it was just the same.”
Rob, who moved to Devon from Lichfield when he was a child, trained as a chef in Torquay and worked at Britannia Royal Naval College for many years, rising up through the ranks from kitchen assistant in the senior gun room to executive chef in the commodore’s house. He and Collette met while they both worked at the Naval College. The couple ran the Flavel café for some years before moving to the Old Market, and enjoy working together.
Collette said: “I’m a bull at a gate and a panicker, Rob is cool and calm. He is lovely to work for and we really enjoy working together.”
Dartmouth born and brought up, she added: “It says a lot about our special community that our customers have behaved as they have. There are lots of nice places in Dartmouth where our regulars could have gone for a coffee while our café was closed, but the fact that they come here to support Rob is really very special, and we are very grateful.”
First published May 2011 By the Dart