As a long standing food retail obsessive I am always looking at what is out there, what I think of it and what the next big thing will be. I have an active imagination which means that I am constantly looking to see what’s going on and piecing together bits of what I have seen into my fantasy place which would be cutting edge and innovative.

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In its time, Bills Food and Produce Store was that new place that everyone wanted to see and understand. Founded in 2001 by Bill Collison it was the second iteration of his original green grocer in Lewes, East Sussex. The original store was washed away in the floods of 2000 and as with all these stories, out of such a disaster came the silver lining as he re-established the business with the addition of a cafe. It was a clever model as he was able to add value to the raw produce by making delicious dishes and yet he had all the visual glamour that fresh fruit and veg offer, especially when handled by a talented team. Bill’s sister-in-law Tania Webb encouraged the evolution of the concept bringing her restaurant experience and a woman’s touch to the proceedings and paired with a good chef who understood the value of simple good food, history was made.

Over the years they stuck to their values: serve really good food, make sure every customer has a good time and go that bit further to make sure Bill’s is always somewhere people want to come back to….and they did!

Today Bill’s has been taken over by that talented corporate machine that is Richard Caring and don’t you know it. The individual charm has been rolled out to a formula and whilst it is better than some on the high street it does not have that individual entrepreneurial feel or charm any more. Bill has gone on to write a book, create Bill’s branded items and is still involved in the roll out of the brand but it is Tania and her creativity that brought me back to that Brighton area this weekend.

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Tania merged her love of good food, interest in design, expertise in the industry, kitchen designing partner and fellow food lover/co-worker at Bills, Louise Carter, together and in Summer 2013 Cafe Marmalade was born. She is one clever lady who may downplay the objectives of opening such a place but there is no doubt that her savvy approach has meant a roaring trade and a successful business.

What I liked was the fact that those original values that they set out at Bill’s were ingrained in the offer. Good food, great service, go that bit further.

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I think the whole tone of the place is established through its relaxed and homely approach. The design is rustic and eclectic, you could almost say unfinished. But it is a style no less.

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Simple things like shelves of raw produce and jams, stacks of well thumbed cookery books propping up the product displays and baking trays put straight out on display without touching up the overflowing browned bits of cheesy sauce all add to the feel. But more than that the staff are just great. Young, enthusiastic, engaging, smiley, chatty and above all attentive, they strike just the right tone under the watchful eye of the owners themselves who are there, in site, just bringing their concept to life every single day they operate.

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The flair with which they present everything is absolutely theirs. You feel their interest in food throughout the offer and as the day progresses, the counter moves along with new items added at differing times of the day as they are finished off in the tiny open plan kitchen. Breakfast evolves into lunch and then giant platters of scones or cake stands of friands come in to signal tea. And whilst the food is not going to win any Michelin stars, it is homely, tasty, generous, great value and just how you wish you could cook at home.

If you are even vaguely in the area I heartily recommend it and then take a long walk along the beach – you will need to walk off your over indulgence after falling for all the fab food they offer.

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