In the company of Carrie and Tony Wilkinson, owners of The Harrogate Tea Rooms, who are battling back after the pandemic

The Harrogate Advertiser speaks to Carrie and Tony Wilkinson, owners of The Harrogate Tea Rooms.

By Gemma Jimmison
Monday, 9th May 2022, 5:52 pm
Updated Monday, 9th May 2022, 5:55 pm
Carrie and Tony Wilkinson, owners of The Harrogate Tea Rooms.
Carrie and Tony Wilkinson, owners of The Harrogate Tea Rooms.

Q: In a nutshell, what does your company do and how did it start?

A: We offer home-made and freshly-baked scones, cakes and savoury dishes, all made in the tea rooms with Carrie’s own recipes.

They’re tastes that take you back in time – customers often mention how our food reminds them of visits to grandma’s for cakes and scones!

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We have a great reputation for our scones, from sultana to iced bakewell and rhubarb. We also bake fresh scones daily, and even during the day whilst customers wait.

During lockdown Carrie got creative and delivered freshly-prepared afternoon tea and cream scones around the Harrogate area. These where very well received, so much so that we extended our reach and offered postal cream teas which we posted to all parts of the UK.

Q: What’s the most surprising thing about it?

A: A relaxed and friendly atmosphere within a wonderful Victorian setting. People are always blown away with our food and service, and many ask why people queue elsewhere!

The Victorian arcade is a great to look at, and now that more shops are coming into the arcade it makes for a great Harrogate destination. And we always take time to chat!

Q: What do you do?

Carrie: Everything to do with cooking, baking and preparing food.

Tony: Everything front of house – and following instructions from the boss.

Carrie is also our social media guru. Being tucked away, we need to create a presence online and Carrie has certainly done this, sharing stories about the tea room and also posting daily sweet treats. We are proud to be high up on all the various review websites.

Q: How did you end up here?

Carrie: 20-plus years working for the NHS as a state registered podiatrist.

Tony: 30-plus years in the golf and sports apparel industry. I’m also still involved with my own business offering branded workwear for businesses in and around Harrogate. The www.Xpresswear.co.uk business was launched during lockdown and is steadily growing.

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Q: If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

A: It’s hard to say, given that we enjoy the tearoom and meeting people, so maybe open another tearoom, or perhaps we would develop the delivery side of our business.

Q: What motivates you?

A: Giving great quality and service in all that we do, and as we would expect when visiting an eating establishment.

We want people to enjoy the experience in the tearooms – it’s a great place to catch up with friends or just enjoy some valuable ‘me time’.

Q: What one thing do you wish you had known when you started out in business?

A: Expect the unexpected. As we all know now, anything can happen – and will.

Q: What excites you about business?

A: Happy customers, and ones that comeback to see us. Some customers are just retuning after two years and are so happy that we have battled through and are still offering great food.

Q: What is your pet hate in business?

A: Quiet days, when we think, ‘What have we done wrong?’. The ups and downs of business these days can be very worrying!

Q: What advice would you give to people just starting their careers?

A: Get a good education and then good grounding in a large company. Before you start out on your own, learn good business practice.

Q: Who in business do you most admire, and why?

A: Carrie never continues to amaze me with her new creations and great business ideas that have kept us going through these last few years. She is also a pro on social media, which is crucial to us.

We also have great staff helping us. Natasha helps three days a week and we then have a good team of youngsters helping on Saturdays and holidays. During busier times we have our three boys helping us.

Customers love the fact that it’s a true family business, and love to hear the stories of our boys. The eldest, Ben, has finished university is now travelling in Central America. Our middle son, Max, is currently at Liverpool University, and our youngest, Joe, is in the sixth form at Harrogate Grammar School. They all are a great help in the tearoom when we are busy.

Q: What moments of your career so far stand out?

A: Taking the plunge to give up our jobs and go for it – and keeping going despite all the challenges we have had over the last few years. We worked hard and got through it.

Q: What sets your company apart from the competition?

A: Service and quality. We want to offer a great experience that is memorable.

We love to have both locals and visitors visiting us and sharing stories with us. Taking time to talk is crucial these days, and I hope we offer a great place to do that.

We often feel we are the local tourist guides as we recommend bars, restaurants etc – not forgetting the best view in North Yorkshire from Knaresborough Castle. It’s truly unique, and one of our favourite places for a dog walk.

Q: What is the most difficult challenge your company has faced? And what challenges are you experiencing at the moment?

A: Cashflow has been a real struggle and now we are unable to forecast our business as people are still visiting as before and also people are watching their own budgets.

We have to continue to up our game and not be complacent. Given that it seem every week another eatery opens, we have to ensure we maintain our quality.

Q: Have you got a five-year

plan for the company?

A: We’ll be continuing to offer great food and service, and hopefully we’ll get back to normal business levels.

Hopefully we will see a full return of the conferences and events at the Harrogate International Centre – it’s great to see them come back. We now just need more and more attendees for all the businesses in Harrogate; the success of the HIC and Royal Hall are crucial.

Q: Why is it good to do business in Harrogate?

A: The choice of fantastic independent eateries in Harrogate makes you strive to try harder and offer something unique. I encourage all visitors to try the various restaurants and bars we have. It’s great the town has so much to offer for everyone.

We do need more events, though. I would like to see events launched that get visitors moving around the town – not just the usual places – and fewer companies from outside the area offering food at events. That’s really annoying when we have great local businesses that offer the best – but that’s a whole other conversation!

Factfile:

Name: Carrie & Tony Wilkinson

Age: Still young, according to our three boys!

Birthplace:

Sheffield, Beverley

Job title:

Carrie: owner / Tony: Partner

Company name:

The Harrogate Tea Rooms

Company address:

9 Westminster Arcade,

Harrogate HG1 2RN

Website address:

www.harrogatetearooms.co.uk

Company founded:2012

Turnover:n/a

Number of staff: 3, plus 3 part-time.