The story behind Mrs B's Kitchen Café in Newbury
PUBLISHED: 16:05 11 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:06 11 February 2019
Emma Benson - aka Mrs B - is bringing her own brand of culinary magic to a new cafe in Newbury. We chatted to the caterer turned cafe entrepreneur to find out what's in store…
Emma Benson knows how to deal with an emergency in the kitchen, from ovens breaking down at a wedding she was catering (sprinting to a nearby house to cook 100 beef fillets, with the bride none the wiser) to coping with more than one hollandaise sauce disaster. But it’s all in a day’s work for one of Berkshire’s busiest party caterers.
They are credentials that stand Benson’s latest venture in very good stead – the brand-new Mrs B’s Kitchen is about to open on Faraday Road in Newbury.
The latest jewel in Newbury’s dine-out scene is set in the heart of one of the town’s burgeoning business districts, on the former Crescent Signs site. The cafe, which will be open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon teas six days a week, has a wholesome and home-cooked feel as Benson proudly prepares all the locally sourced food on site.
In short, it is the fruition of a long-held dream for the 53-year-old mum of three. Benson says: “We’ve been established for 15 years now as a catering business, growing by recommendation and repeat customers, so I am very excited about opening this new café; it’s a milestone I’m proud of.”
The party pioneer says she began saving for her “warehouse project” five years ago, squirrelling away funds while she honed the business plan.
“I was always looking at other people’s cafes and imagining Mrs B’s Kitchen there and how it would work,” she says. “I wanted to create an informal space where people can come and meet and enjoy good, simple food.”
When the spot came up last year, Benson jumped at it. She believes it’s the perfect space for a cafe, whilst allowing the booming catering side – which counts celebrities and dignitaries amongst its customers – to flourish.
She says: “As business grew, our home had started to look like a catering storage unit with pots and pans everywhere!
“The garage was overflowing and our kitchen was full of fridges, which don’t look very nice! Being based at home was becoming more difficult. The cafe’s a big commitment and will be hard work, but it will be fun too.”
Brought up on a remote farm in “very rural” Somerset, Benson was living and working in London when the family decided a big life change was overdue.
Eschewing the demands of a nine-to-five existence, after years of working for a production company in London, in 2001 she relocated to Berkshire with her husband, Marcus, and children then aged five, four and one.
She explains: “I really wanted something I could do while being a mum at home. I was already a keen home cook, often making biscuits for friends, so I paid for a table at the school Christmas fair and it completely sold out.”
Next came the artisan fairs, selling through farm shops and events in Berkshire. Word spread and, before long, Benson was “overwhelmed” with orders.
“I realised that I was going to run myself into the ground making biscuits one by one. The volume was spiralling out of control,” she says. Spotting a gap in the market – working people with little time on their hands – she began offering home cooking.
“One of my first enquiries was for a doctor who wanted a picnic for Glyndebourne. I was nervous – I wasn’t a trained cook, I was a mum who enjoyed cooking! But it went down a storm,” Benson says.
The business has grown thanks to friends helping out with school runs and Benson credits the Berkshire Athena networking group for helping her turn an “out of control hobby” into a business.
Benson loves what she does in her adopted home. “Berkshire is a great place to be a caterer,” she says. “There are so many good local producers, such as Vicars Game, Cook & Butcher, The Pangbourne Cheese Shop and Thatcham market, which has a great veg stall. I love being part of the food scene here.”
On a day off, Benson can be found at The Thames Lido or walking her dogs along the Kennet and Avon Canal.
With a daily changing menu based around what’s seasonal in the market that week, Benson has set the bar high for Mrs B’s Kitchen. Offering plenty of gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian and vegan foods, along with the “best quality produce we can obtain”, it has an admirably mindful ‘minimal waste’ policy.
“I’m used to cooking well into the night to make sure we have everything ready for the next day, but we have hired five extra staff for the new venture, so I can take time away occasionally,” she says.
“The whole family is excited about the cafe. And to think that when I started 16 years ago I was so unsure about my capability, and now I can manage so much, it’s a great feeling.”
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