Interview with Berkshire-based Honesty Group’s Romilla Arber
PUBLISHED: 06:51 27 December 2019
Romilla Arber is passionate about food – where it comes from and how it’s cooked. This ethos led her to set up the Honesty Group across Berkshire
The Honesty Group includes eight coffee shops, a bakery and a cookery school across Berkshire. It is the brain-child of cookery writer Romilla Arber, from North Sydmonton, who wanted to widen people's horizons when it came to food.
"I used to be a lawyer," she tells me. "I went to university to study law; I became a solicitor and practised for 10 years. But then I got pregnant and my loyalties changed to lie with my baby, so I became a full-time mum."
Romilla went on to have four children; three boys now aged 23, 22 and 19, and a daughter, aged 15. "After having my children, I became really interested in food and how it gets to the consumer. And I'd write about it," she says. "I think food has a massive impact on our lives socially."
Romilla even found the time to write a couple of cookbooks: What's for Dinner and What's for Dinner - Second Helpings, "to encourage people to cook fresh and seasonal dishes, rather than rely on convenience food".
As time went on, Romilla thought more and more about opening a bakery. "I wanted to offer people real bread, but everyone said there was no money in it," she admits. "But then five years ago, a pub came up for sale in Inkpen. It was rundown but that meant it wasn't too expensive, so I bought it and did it up."
It's now The Crown & Garter, born out of Romilla's desire to serve honest food, so customers know exactly where it comes from and how it's cooked. "I opened a coffee shop there as well. It was half-coffee shop, half-bakery, so you could see the bread being made. But now I've moved that bakery to Greenham as it's more practical," she says.
Things have grown from there, though. "The little coffee shop in Kingsclere came up for rent, so we snapped that up," she says, and she now has coffee shops in Kingsclere, Inkpen, Hungerford, Overton, Stockbridge, Greenham, Bucklebury and Brightwalton. "We've tried to open coffee shops in places where we can engage with the community and add real value," Romilla says.
You can also order your bread online from the Honesty Group, and they have a wholesale bakery in Turnpike, Newbury. "I love Berkshire," Romilla adds. "It's very rural in areas - you often can't even see or hear a road. There's a really nice mix of different towns and I am so proud to be a part of these. I believe that when you do something you should do it with 100% commitment. That way, you get more out of life. We've made mistakes, but you learn from them and that's rewarding."
Romilla also founded The Food Education Trust. It was set up to help fund organisations interested in teaching people about cooking from scratch. The Trust funded more than 60 projects in total, including building a kitchen in a school.
Romilla also opened an Honesty Cookery School in The Barn at North Sydmonton House, where people can immerse themselves in the world of food.
So what's next? "We're looking at new venues to offer our wholesale goods," says Romilla. "We are also about to take over the management of Saddleback Farm Shop, which is a popular place."