'A coffee shop was a childhood dream' - Q&A with Mel Benns

Mel Benns, owner of Henry's Cafe on Church Street in Cromer. Picture: Danielle Booden

Mel Benns, owner of Henry's Cafe on Church Street in Cromer. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Archant

We're shining a light on people who live or work in north Norfolk as part of a series of Q&As. This week we're featuring Mel Benns, 58, who run's Cromer's Henry's Coffee and Tea Store and lives in Costessey, near Norwich.

How would you best describe your job or role in the community?  
Coffee shop owner. I took over Henry’s in Cromer on December 1, 2020 then went into lockdown in early January 2021. We opened again in May 2021.

It used to be owned by a friend of mine and I had always really loved going there. It was a childhood dream of mine to have a coffee shop because I to bake. I've had a career in hotels - from being a receptionist, food and beverage manager to marketing director.

How long have you lived in Costessey?
I’ve lived in Norfolk most of my life. I was born in north Norfolk, grew up near Norwich as well as spending most weekends and holidays with my nanny in Hindringham. I’ve been living in my current home in Costessey for seven years. 

What would you do if you were mayor of your town or village for a day?  
I’d arrange a huge street party and bring people together. 

What is your favourite landmark in north Norfolk?
Cromer Pier. I just love walking along it with the wind in my hair and the sun in my face. I always go to the end-of-pier show, both the summer show and Christmas show - it's good, hearty entertainment and there's a lot of nostalgia.

What is your favourite pub?  
The SugarBeet, which is on the A140 just past Dunston, south of Norwich. It has really lovely food and nice atmosphere, and there's a nice garden to sit and enjoy a drink.

Which shops do you rely on?
For my coffee shop supplies, I buy all my bread products from Dudley's Bakery and all my meat products from The Butchers Joint.

Shop local campaign Cromer North Norfolk. Dudleys Bakery, Sharon Dudley Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Sharon Dudley at Dudley's Bakery in Cromer. - Credit: Archant

I also love Aldiss in Fakenham. Growing up, that was the place you could anything from a greeting card to a sofa.

What is your favourite place to eat out in north Norfolk?
I regularly eat at Hot Rocks in Cromer for a fabulous seafood platter. But I’ve so many favorites.

Hot Rocks welcomes the Go Go Chrome Hare. Pictures: Martin Green

Guests enjoying a meal at Hot Rocks in Cromer. - Credit: Martin Green

What is a perfect day in north Norfolk for you? 
A picnic on Salthouse beach in the sunshine listening to the waves coming in on the pebbles. 

Peaceful Salthouse Beach in North Norfolk.

Salthouse beach. - Credit: BRIAN SHREEVE

Which places in north Norfolk would you recommend to visitors?

Definitely Cromer - it's got a little bit of everything, and it's a bit old fashioned. There are some great independent shops, a beach and a promenade to walk along - it's a really nice, happy little place.

Who is your north Norfolk hero?
The chef, Galton Blackiston. He has helped put Norfolk into a lot of people's minds through his television work, and he does a lot for the community.

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TV chef Galton Blackiston. Photo: Archant - Credit: Archant

And because I love cooking, food and wine, it would have to be him. 

What do you most love about north Norfolk?
There’s so much. Big skies, secluded beaches, bustling market towns, fabulous local produce and friendly people. 

Would you like to be featured in our Q&A? Email stuart.anderson@archant.co.uk for more details