In response, customers quickly started a GoFundMe page in an appeal for help and together raised almost £700 within a mere matter of hours.
“That made me so proud,” says the tearoom’s owner Sally Burgess. “Even though I didn’t accept the money - it went to charity instead - I was overwhelmed and so grateful for our loyal community of customers.”
Originally from Southport, Sally took over the running of the Whittle Vintage Tea Room three years ago after deciding on a change of career following 14 years with Waitrose. Her kids had just started college and university and her husband had just got a new job in Manchester, so - given her lifelong love of baking - she decided to take the plunge and make a change herself, too.
“I was at a time in my life where something had to change,” says Sally, 46. “We’d moved to Whittle-le-Woods and the tearoom came up for sale, so I felt it was a case of now-or-never. I’ve always enjoyed baking, so taking over seemed like something I not only wanted to do but something I was ready for. My husband said it would be perfect for me, so that was that.
“I learned to bake from my grandparents; I was the eldest of four and, each Friday, I’d go to theirs and come home on the Sunday, so that’s where it all started,” she adds. “But being a business owner was very different! I just took things step-by-step and I was fortunate that everything was busy from day one and that’s never really stopped.”
A homely local favourite whose menu boasts an array of breakfast classics such as toast with homemade raspberry jam, avocado and eggs on toast, buttermilk pancakes, and dry-cured bacon sandwiches, Sally says the Whittle Vintage Tea Room is all about being different.
“We wanted to offer something different to what people could just make at home and to really be a destination for people,” she explains, with the tearoom making their own ham and selling artisan bread as well as homemade soups, afternoon tea, sandwiches, and baked potatoes. “It went down really well - every day we just seemed to get busier and busier.
“It’s tiring and the hours are long because you have to put the effort in to get the return, but being your own boss gives you freedom to do what you want exactly how you want it.”
Lockdown, however, was a very particular challenge.
“It was stressful,” says Sally, with the tearoom now boasting a team of five employees. “I remember buying the fruit ahead of Mother’s Day and then I learned that we had to close. It was just so upsetting, but I tried to turn it around by thinking of it as a three-week break to reflect and then come back better. It was obviously a lot longer than three weeks in the end!
“We turned things around quickly and put out a message saying we’d be operating as a takeaway,” Sally adds, also thanking Clayton Green Asda, who bought £300-worth of cakes from her for their staff which would have otherwise have gone to waste. “We just had to be flexible and adapt; we did treat boxes and cream teas for a few weeks and those sold well.
“Then I got back into the routine of baking cakes because people were ordering things for friends and family to surprise them in lockdown. That was great.”
Nothing, however, compares to being back in person.
“It’s been amazing to reopen the shop; to have a table of six all chattering away and to have the sounds of the tea room back is wonderful,” Sally says. “And people are ordering more cakes than before Covid as well - people want something handmade and baked with love for that special occasion.
“We’re so grateful for the overwhelming support from our customers and, while I’m nervous about another lockdown, we just have to keep our fingers crossed.”