'It went a bit potty' - New cafe owner's tough first few months in lockdown

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

When Mel Benns took over a popular seaside cafe in late 2020, she thought the country had seen the last of lockdown and she was preparing for a busy Christmas period.

But a fortnight after taking over Henry's Coffee and Tea Store in Cromer, Norfolk was placed under Tier 4 restrictions followed by a third national lockdown in early January.

Ms Benns didn't let that stop her though, since taking over the cafe she has worked hard to keep the Henry's name alive by running an afternoon tea service which has seen her almost single-handedly produce more than 360 traditional teas.

Henry's Cafe on Church Street in Cromer. Picture: Danielle Booden

Henry's Cafe on Church Street in Cromer. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Archant

Now, after a tough few months, Ms Benns is getting ready to welcome people into Henry's on Church Street for the first time.

Looking back on her first six months, Ms Benns said: "I decided to buy the cafe and take over officially on December 1. We were working towards opening on December 20 we were doing some cosmetic things, changing a few things and doing a little bit of tidying up."

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


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She said after the announcement Norfolk was going into Tier 4, she decided to just run takeaways from December 30, but soon realised it wasn't enough.

"I decided that because I wanted to keep Henry's alive I would launch Henry's afternoon teas," she said.

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"So we did that all the way through, then Valentine's came and it went totally potty, work was really good but we had to get around snow and ice [to deliver them]. So I had to get my family onboard."

Henry's Cafe on Church Street in Cromer. Picture: Danielle Booden

Henry's Cafe on Church Street in Cromer. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Archant

Ms Benns said in the last month she had wound down her afternoon tea service to concentrate on getting ready to welcome customers inside on Wednesday, May 19.

She added: "I've worked 18 hours a day, I travel to Cromer [from Norwich] to bake. It's been hard and I haven't made any money but hopefully, we've got the name. I have had so much support and so many lovely comments from the locals and people who have holiday homes."

She said she was lucky to inherit all of Henry's secret recipes and people visiting the cafe from May 19 would see old favourites as well as a few new items on the menu.

"I'm feeling very excited but of course we have got social distancing rules and regulations that we have to adhere to," she said.

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