The Bees Country Kitchen: The Chorley family business making proper local grub with love

Self-described ‘full-time foodies’ Mike and Sarah Bryan - the owners of The Bees Country Kitchen on Chorley Market - know a thing or two about good grub.

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 7:00 am
Mike and Sarah with Tom Parker Bowles and Nigel Barden at the judging of BBC Food and Farming Awards 2018

“We live to eat, not the other way around!” says Sarah with a laugh.

A family-run cafe and deli which serves hot, hearty, and local food including Lancastrian classics like hotpot and corned beef hash, The Bees has been serving the people of Chorley since it opened in 2015 and specialises in proper food cooked with love.

“We’re an artisan deli which does Lancashire street food made from locally-sourced ingredients,” says Sarah, who met Mike in 1984 during freshers’ week at Sheffield City Polytechnic where they both completed a degree in catering. “Some 67% of everything we buy comes from the market and surrounding businesses, including everything from local free-range chicken to grass-fed beef.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Mike, Liberty, and Sarah on opening day in April 2015

“With us working in the food industry, it definitely helps that we both love food!”

Having worked in catering since graduating, the pair moved to Chorley in 1994 and soon got to know the local market. So, when a unit came up for sale, they jumped at the chance.

“Units don’t come up very often, so we decided to go for it,” says Mike, with the couple submitting a 50-page business plan to the local council and being given the keys soon after. “It’s grown quite organically: we had realistic expectations to begin with and it’s grown steadily over the years and it’s all been driven by customer demand.

“We’ve got a really strong base of amazing regulars,” he adds, with the cafe now boasting seating for some 40 people under their cosy gazebo. “We do quite a lot of work with the local church and food banks and they’re always quick to support us with those kinds of things.”

Mike manning a pop up stall at A Taste of Chorley

Since opening, The Bees has earned widespread recognition for their food.

In 2018, the cafe was named as one of the UK’s top three street-food vendors or takeaways at the 2018 BBC Food and Farming Awards and came runner-up in the Observer Food Magazine’s Best Cheap Eats restaurants. The year after, they were named in the Top 10 Delicatessens of the Year at the Farm Shop & Deli Awards.

But even for an establishment as beloved as The Bees, Covid has proved a unique challenge to say the least.

“Covid has made this probably the most challenging year business-wise and professionally of our lives because we’ve never been through anything like this before,” explains Mike. “We made a decision quite early on not to shut and it’s been difficult, but we’re proud of what we’ve done because we’ve been really nimble.

“By the time they closed the pubs last year, we were already doing the odd delivery because we already had a good system in place in the form of our Christmas brochure from which people could order and collect things,” he adds. “Then, when it was clear which way things were going, we ramped it up and it’s formed a major part of our business instead of walk-up trade.”

Sarah agrees. “It’s just been about flexibility because we knew there’d be trade, we just didn’t know what it’d look like,” she says. “And, just before lockdown, Parklands High School - which is our daughter Liberty’s old school - contacted us to ask if we could take over the free school meals provision if they shut. We knew that, no matter what happened, we had to provide that service.”

Now a multi-faceted business offering an outside catering for events, celebration cakes, pop-up nights, wholesale items, and full breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea menu, The Bees has come a long way whilst never forgetting its roots as a family business, with Liberty - in her final year of a Sports Science degree at UCLan - still working at the cafe herself.

“It’s been great to see the business grow, even though it’s not always been plain sailing,” says Sarah. “But if we’ve weathered the last 12 months, we can probably get through anything!”