This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
As an RHS member, I can sometimes be found wandering around Harlow Carr Gardens in Harrogate, which in summer is just the best place to stop and smell the roses.
If you follow the stream though the gardens it leads to a small, rather exquisite and completely unique Betty’s Cafe, their sole outdoor outlet and one of my favourite places in the world to chill.
Whilst around the lunch table at Annabel and Grace’s wonderful bloggers lunch recently I asked the assembled ladies who had heard of Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms.
I was unsure how much if any of this very Yorkshire institution had permeated the consciousness of those outside God’s County.
I need not have worried.
There was much enthusiasm expressed for this rather traditional if somewhat parochial company who run just six team rooms serving hand-made sandwiches, cakes, chocolates and patisseries accompanied by their famous tea and coffee blends.
This was heartening for me as I’ve been a Betty’s fan since my mother took me to their Harrogate Tea Room as a teenager. And I don’t like cake.
2019 is their centenary year and despite their burgeoning popularity they refuse to expand from their Northern base.
Lesley Wild has been Chairman of the company since 2011 and has explained she’s not interested in doing so as they would then risk compromising the quality – and that’s not going to happen. She explains it this way.
“What I hope is we offer an oasis of civilisation, calmness and deliciousness”.
Wild took over from her husband Jonathan when he decided to step down to concentrate on his work with an environmental charity after his family had a rather life changing encounter with a TV programme.
Back in 1990 his children were watching BBC’s “Blue Peter” one evening. It featured a piece on the destruction of rain forests. They were upset and after seeing their response he promised to plant a million trees around the world.
By 2007 the Yorkshire Rainforest Project had planted three million trees and helped protect an area of endangered forest bigger than the Yorkshire Dales.
Jonathan is the great-nephew of their founder Fritz Bützer, a Swiss immigrant who arrived not speaking a word of English but desperate for a better life after being orphaned as a five year old and sold to a farmer as cheap labour.
He really struggled on arrival despite changing his name to Fredrick. He lost the details of his prospective employer and couldn’t remember where they were. Only that it sounded like “bratwust” – which is why he arrived in Bradford.
Today their Yorkshire tea rooms have a strangely British yet distinctly Alpine feel. The menus contain words like “rosti” and “schnitzel”. Their Swiss wine list is impressive.
Betty’s bakery on the edge of Harrogate has a chalet style roof. When you walk into reception you find a large cow bell. So they’re proud of their Swiss roots, as is Lesley of her husband’s invention. The Fat Rascal.
Jonathan came up with this cross between a bun and a scone in 1983. Topped with whole blanched almonds and glaced cherries, the recipe is top secret.
Betty’s did the catering at the RHS Harrogate AGM which I attended in Harrogate a couple of years ago – and they flew.
But here’s the thing.
Betty’s owns the Taylors of Harrogate coffee brand and also Yorkshire Tea, the second biggest tea brand in the UK which has remained unchanged for 40 years.
In 2018 this family owned business increased their turnover 10% to £208 million and their group operation profit was £11.2 million. I imagine that would make Fritz’s eyes bulge.
I’m pleased to report the most pleasing aspect of Betty’s is that despite their success they’ve never take their eye off the personal touch.
When Mum passed away in 2017, I found a voucher behind the clock on her mantelpiece for Betty’s which a friend had sent her in the hope she would be well enough to go. Unfortunately she was not and it expired. I called them and explained the situation. They honoured it.
So a few weeks ago I went to their Harlow Carr Cafe in Harrogate and had Afternoon Tea. Let me take you through it.
You cannot book, so their queues are famously long but they thoughtfully provide chairs for those waiting. 35 minutes later we were shown to our seats.
The order is taken and soon afterwards a three tiered silver salver arrived. On the bottom was an arrangement of beautifully made small white sandwiches (minus crusts of course) containing salmon, beef, coronation chicken and ham. The bread is made in their own Harrogate based bakery.
The middle salver holds their scones, butter, jam and cream. Each are either made or sourced locally – and let me tell you their cream teas are the best I have ever tasted (which includes Devon and Cornwall).
The top was crowned with small, individually made patisseries and cakes, including a beautifully decorated 100th Centenary one which was to die for.
Betty’s own blend tea of our choice was properly provided in a loose leaf manner with a strainer into china cups.
The waiting staff were polite, well-trained and dressed in traditional black and white outfits. Their management (in black) smiley, courteous, efficient and never fazed by the amount of people they dealt with.
They served lots of smiling faces who can’t get a cup of Earl Grey and a vanilla slice on the internet.
Today we worry about how we’ll cope in the future. What will our new Government do? If a no deal will mean empty shelves in our shops and rioting on the streets.
The simple answer is we will be fine.
Britain is a talented island nation with strengths, customs and traditions influenced and personified by people like Fredrick Bützer.
So in Betty’s Centenary, let’s raise a cup of proper Yorkshire Tea to a man who had the drive and determination to realise his dream.
Happy Birthday Betty.
There’s a fascinating video about the founder, Fritz Bützer’s life – to watch now CLICK HERE