TOP OF TRIPADVISOR: CHAPEL HOUSE, DUNSTER

Married couple, Jonny and Gareth run the hugely popular Chapel House Tearoom and Craft Shop in the medieval village of Dunster on Exmoor. They share a few secrets to their success. 

Can you tell us about Chapel House Tearoom and Craft Shop? 
We tried to create a space that is relaxing, enjoyable and a little bit different - quirky yet homely. This is reflected in the food, service and furniture. We personalise the service and train our staff to suss people out as they walk through the door as to what type of service they might want. And we’ve spent a lot of time putting the playlist together to create the atmosphere. The tearoom menu ranges from sandwiches and soups to crumpets and cakes to pies and pastries. We also sell unique and local crafts and a huge range of gins which we’re very passionate about. 

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When did it launch and what led you to the idea? 
In August 2015 - we had been talking about having our own place since we first met eight years ago when we were both working in hospitality. If that’s what you want, you’ve got to keep believing in it. 

How did you start? 
We were both very stressed in our jobs and it got to that point where it was now or never. Our family also gave us a kick. We started looking for places and knew that we had to find the right building then design the business around it, not vice versa. 

Even though we were both capable of doing everything we worked out set roles and quickly became ‘back of house’ and ‘front of house’ which helps the customers understand as well as us. We work together but do completely different jobs. 

Were you worried about setting up a cafe in a small village that already had quite a few cafes and tearooms? 
Yes, we had a lot of self-doubts but we decided to open the doors and act with confidence. We had done our research on menus and pricing and identified what we enjoyed and were good at. We’ve kept it simple and not over-complicated anything. 

What marketing did you do? 
When we first opened we did a leaflet drop around all houses with a 20% off voucher and we created our brand, a website and we’re on social media. From the outset, we wanted a good relationship with the community, especially as we didn’t want to close during the winter months. 

Discounts or banners are not necessarily going to work around here but thinking about the community spirit is essential - getting involved with the local school, making cakes, flower arranging, meeting with people, taking coffees up to the National Trust staff when we first opened. The community has really supported us. With any marketing opportunities, we consider things on a case by case basis - we react quickly and don’t really plan ahead.

You’re number one on TripAdvisor in Exmoor, what do you put this down to? 
We’ve never asked anyone to review us, we’re incredibly lucky, we didn’t expect it. It’s a great resource and people seek us out because of it but we’re too busy focusing on the business to push TripAdvisor. We try to make sure that if there’s any chance that someone hasn’t enjoyed something that we sort it before they leave the building and get honest feedback. 

We don’t get carried away with reviews but we look for patterns and would ask other people’s opinions if the same things were mentioned frequently. We believe in keeping the focus on what the point of us opening was in the first place and making the whole experience great. The experience starts way before they sit down and eat - it’s from the internet search - when they’re at home. 

What’s your best piece of advice for being successful in the hospitality industry? 
Only do what you enjoy, believe in and are passionate about. Don’t be afraid of hard work. You will work crazy hours so you’ve got to love it. And be willing to learn from each other. 

What are your biggest achievements to date? 
Still being married!! We’ve never worked together before this. And the success of this place, it’s a challenge work-wise and relationship-wise but we make sure we always talk. 

What’s next for you and Chapel House? 
Sleep and making sure we take time off! We live and breathe this place (not in a bad way) but we need time off to keep the passion alive. There’s also a possibility that we might look at an occasional evening element. 

Chapel House Tearoom and Craft Shop is at 2 West Street, Dunster, Somerset, TA24 6SN. Visit the Chapel House website.