Tucked into a farmyard complex outside Stalbridge, Thyme After Time is a local favourite for breakfast and scones. Rachael Rowe reports
The smell of a breakfast cooking is always enticing, but there’s a lot more than eggs and bacon going on behind the scenes at Thyme After Time near Stalbridge. Owner Margot Dimmer talked about how her business started and described her latest developments.
‘Nineteen years ago, when my son was born, I started making jellies, chutneys and jams. I supplied delis and places like River Cottage. I worked from home and used to deliver them all with my son in the car. I did some work for Parkers, an outside caterer, and built up networking links. People started asking me to do parties. Before I knew it I was doing 16 weddings a year.
Then I had a catering business at Hazelbury Bryan, with a cafe at the side. But it was the cafe that really took off. I chatted to the landlord here at Spirehill Farm, and they found a space for me. In July we’ll have been here eight years. We still do catering, but since the lockdowns we only supply events and parties – and will shortly be supplying funerals. We don’t do weddings any more, Saturdays are too busy here at the cafe.
We managed to survive the lockdowns, but they changed the business. I saw what we needed and acted fast. Overnight we did a massive overhaul of the website so we could offer Saturday night takeaways with a world menu such as Chinese and Mexican. The first lockdown was really good for us, but it was increasingly difficult in subsequent lockdowns due to the competition – everyone else caught on!’
Dorset Cream Teas by post
The lockdowns made Margot realise there was an opportunity waiting for her. She was getting regular requests to post her produce and she began to look at the e-commerce aspect of the business.
‘We set up a crowdfund to raise £9,500 so we could develop the e-commerce business. We had got half way to the target with just two days to go, and at that point a long-standing customer stepped in and made up the difference. That enabled us to purchase the Rationale cooker (which produces 200 scones per hour!) plus the additional equipment for the mail order side of the business. It has taken 18 months to get off the ground.’
The Dorset branding and eye-catching packaging have paid off. Did you know that a hare is a symbol for Dorset? It is emblazoned on the cream tea delivery boxes – not only do they look absolutely beautiful, but they are strong enough to be reused for storage. But there is more to the image – Margot shows me why the Droste Dorset Hare has its name.
‘Droste is an anagram for Dorset, but it’s also an old Dutch word describing a picture appearing within itself.’
Sure enough, if you look closer at the packaging you can see a couple of mini hares.
‘Everything is sourced locally and everything is recyclable.’ Margot says. ‘Our buttermilk for the scones is from the BV Dairy in Shaftesbury. Craig’s Farm Dairy in Weymouth provides the clotted cream and New Forest strawberries are used in our homemade jam. You can get strawberries from them 11 months of the year. Our coffee comes from Read’s in Sherborne.
We thought carefully about our packaging, making sure it is all recyclable. The scone bags are bamboo and compostable. We get our ice packs (for the cream) from a medical company in Gillingham; instead of using a chemical-based gel, we use de-ionised water. You can freeze it and pop it in a G&T!
‘We send hampers and cream teas all over the country from the Dorset Hand Made Food Company. And people can add extras such as Mounter’s Gin from Marnhull or our popular chocolate biscuits.’
If you are looking for a gift for that hard-to-please person, or just to brighten someone’s day, these teas look ideal. Margot also produces afternoon teas and cream teas that can be ordered as takeaway or delivered locally.
How many are in the team?
‘We have ten people, including our three Saturday kids – Eve has been here for six years and Liv is an apprentice.’
What flies out of the cafe?
‘Breakfasts! We serve them at lunch as well. Our Thornhill Brunch is an 11-piece breakfast, and we have breakfast specials too. All the ingredients are local, of course – the eggs come from the farm next door!
‘We also sell our preserves. Medlars are a rare fruit – I get my supplies from someone from the local vintage motorcycle rally. The John Boy’s marmalade is named after my uncle. When I took some marmalade to him he always stirred in some whisky.’
What are you most proud of?
‘That I’m still going! Lockdown was a valuable experience; I discovered that my culinary repertoire is much bigger than I imagined. I challenged myself to come up with a different menu item each week in lockdown.’
And your biggest challenge?
‘Actually it was coming out of lockdown. It has been really tough, especially this last winter. People got out of the habit of going out. These first few weeks of spring have just started seeing things pick up again.’
So what’s next?
We’re currently promoting our hampers with the cream teas by post. Here at Thyme After Thyme we’re trialling Sunday breakfast openings, with some special additional ingredients (think pre-breakfast pastries and brunch platters). There’s also a doggie full English. And for the summer I’m looking at having a Sunday breakfast or brunch event with a musician playing. You’ve got to keep moving continually in business.’