Behind the scenes at Jolly's Catering Company in Curbar Gap
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 April 2019
ana von parker
While out and about Catherine Roth meets Sarah Cairns who has been running her business catering for walkers, cyclists and visitors to Curbar Gap for the last six years
When Sarah Cairns decided to set up her own business, it was her love of baking that steered her on course to create Jolly’s Catering Company.
Jolly’s has been trading at Curbar Gap car park in the Hope Valley for almost six years. Operating out of a converted vintage Citroën H van Sarah provides refreshment and sustenance to the many walkers, cyclists and other visitors who frequent the area for its stunning views, dramatic edges and good footpath access. There is a variety of homemade food to choose from, including vegan and gluten free options, as well as a range of drinks including freshly ground coffee and an assortment of speciality teas. There are even French-style bistro tables and chairs for those who wish to pause a while.
Sarah’s inspiration to turn a vintage van into a quirky café came whilst on a trip to Harrogate. She says, ‘I had always wanted to run my own business and loved food and baking. Then I saw a VW campervan being used as a tea van selling homemade cakes and teas and thought what a great idea it was. I googled different types of vans and found a Citroën H van from 1982, the year in which production ceased. They were first made in 1949 and, as they all look almost identical, the newer ones like ours look older than they actually are.’
The Citroën H van proved a practical choice due in no small part to its height enabling Sarah to be able to stand up and serve from inside. However, more work was involved to convert it than she and her husband Alex had initially thought.
Sarah says, ‘We thought it looked okay when we bought it but we were a bit naïve!’ They commissioned a firm near Holmfirth to convert it into the mobile catering unit Sarah had designed, complete with coffee machine and grinder, hot water urn and sink. However, work on converting the van could only begin following an extensive programme of restoration.
Seven months later the newly transformed van – still with its original engine – was on the road and Sarah christened it Louis. She says, ‘We bought the van from a company in Surrey who imported it from Toulouse in France. There had been just one previous owner called Louis so we thought we’d name the van after him!’
Sarah is at Curbar Gap car park most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as well as bank holidays. She had initially planned on attending events as well but found these often fell at weekends. She says, ‘We did a couple of weddings but trade has built up so much at Curbar Gap that we rarely do anything else now and we don’t want to disappoint our customers.’
All food is homemade and freshly baked by Sarah in her small kitchen at home in Calver. ‘Except for the rich fruit cake and the selection of jams that my dad makes!’ she smiles. Sarah ensures there is an ever-changing selection of cakes, brownies, flapjacks and savoury scones available and always likes to include seasonal offerings, too. This Easter there will be slices of Simnel cake and mini egg brownies to enjoy. The sausage rolls have proved particularly popular, including a vegan option.
Sarah says, ‘I can’t keep up with demand – they’re usually all gone by midday. I just work from my kitchen at home so there’s a limit to how many I can bake each morning!’
A typical day for Jolly’s begins around 8 o’clock when Sarah puts the sausage rolls and scones in the oven to cook. She says, ‘I make them to freeze but ensure I bake them fresh each morning as they’re so much better.’ Then it’s time to load up the van, including food, plentiful supplies of milk, tables and chairs, as well as checking and refilling the water container. It takes just over half an hour to set up before Jolly’s is ready to welcome its first customers of the day. If the weather is fine Sarah finds business can often be non-stop and Alex will often help out too during the weekend.
Sarah was working full time as a sales advisor for a company selling medical devices when she set up Jolly’s but left a year later to run her business full time. Despite having no prior experience of the food industry, Sarah has had a lifelong love of baking ever since her mother first taught her to bake as a child. Sarah says, ‘“Jolly” was my late mother’s maiden name so it was quite apt that we should call ourselves Jolly’s Catering Company. We are even known in the village as Mr and Mrs Jolly as people see us driving around in the van!’ She adds, ‘I really enjoy baking, I have a lot of cook books and am always looking online for new recipes. I like to keep up with current food trends to keep Jolly’s interesting for our customers and me.’
Running what is essentially a small café from a van does however pose its challenges. With no power or water supply at Curbar Gap the van has to be self-sufficient and refrigeration space is limited. There were also the two occasions when the coffee machine froze as the weather was so cold, so Sarah had to rely instead on instant coffee instead of her usual cappucinos, macchiatos and americanos. She says, ‘I tried to defrost the coffee machine but couldn’t as it was holding so much water in the pump. I didn’t like serving instant coffee but in five and a half years it’s happened just twice and on those occasions our customers were just grateful they could have a hot drink!’
Whilst there might still be a spring chill in the air, Sarah guarantees the warmest of welcomes at Jolly’s and an ever-changing menu that’s continuing to prove ever popular with customers.