An Art Deco coffee shop has been a Sherborne staple for more than 35 years – owner Jane Woods tells Rachael Rowe that it’s all about local
When you wander into Oliver’s, it feels like stepping back in time. The elaborate and original Art Deco tiling is a throwback to the 1920s, when the building housed a pork butcher and general provisions store. Today the fittings blend with the warmth of a busy cafe at the top of Sherborne’s Cheap Street, adding a sense of quirkiness to the pervading aroma of good coffee beans. There’s a hum of background chatter as people enjoy a coffee and cake. Owner Jane Wood explains how Oliver’s got its name.
‘Mr John Oliver owned the building in 1986 and he started the cafe, calling it Oliver’s. My landlord bought the building from him. And now it’s me!’
The building has a long sociable communal table in the main cafe area, with more private tables and alcoves and also tables in the garden for sunny days. The alcove areas used to hold the shop shelving; it’s remarkable to see how the old traditional fittings blend so well with a busy modern coffee house.
What brought you here?
I just saw it for sale in 2011. I’ve worked in hospitality for a long time; I’ve worked at Summer Lodge and at the Manor Hotel in Yeovil and I’ve done bar work. When this came up I was working in a cocktail bar in Yeovil. To be honest, I’d had enough of night-time working. When you get the other side of 30, you’ve had enough of dealing with drunks.
Tell us about the team?
We have about 20 people on staff – full timers, weekenders, and some regular students who are about to return from university for the summer.
What flies out of the cafe?
The apricot flapjacks (obviously I volunteered to do a taste test. Delicious. No wonder they’re in demand). Our quiches are also popular. We make everything here on the premises, and constantly review items that don’t sell well, replacing them with something that does.’
Tell us about your suppliers?
We try to use a lot of local suppliers! Our eggs are from Silverton Farm, our dairy produce is from Longman’s near Yeovil, and the alcohol is from Vineyards here in Sherborne. We get our fruit and vegetables from the lovely greengrocer on Cheap Street, our meat is from the butcher next door (Parsons) and also Loders in Yeovil. All our bread is from Oxfords, we use Longman’s cheese and we serve Reads coffee.
What are you most proud of?
I guess the simple fact that we have maintained a popular high street business. And that we employ local people and support local suppliers.
And your biggest challenge?
The energy bills and inflation. I’ve had to go from part time to full time to keep things going. COVID was a challenge for everyone, but as an established business we came out better than we thought – it must have been a lot harder for new businesses or those already struggling. We focused on what we could do, rather than what we couldn’t. I offered Easter cakes, Mothers Day teas – which people loved – and the like. We had to furlough everyone, and I just worked.
But right now it’s the cost of energy that is challenging – we were a £1,000 per month, and we went up to £3,000 a month. That’s a lot of coffee and cake…
What do you recommend?
Our cherry and marzipan cake! It’s delicious; quite an old recipe, it’s really different – and hardly anyone else does it.
And we sell loads of our Guinness pudding!
So what’s next?
We are now doing quite a lot of outside catering, which works well. We’ve catered for functions with the local council, the Friends of the Yeatman Hospital, and we’ll be at Sherborne Castle Country Fair. Another area of our outside catering is providing a vintage afternoon tea for an occasion such as a wedding.
We’re also getting increasing requests for occasion cakes like birthdays, anniversaries, engagements etc.
Once a month we host Sherboard Games night, too – there’s no entry fee, everyone’s welcome. Board games are provided or people can bring their favourites.
Oliver’s is open
9 til 5 Mon to Fri,
Sat 9.30 to 5, Sun 10 to 4.
Oliver’s Coffee House
19 Cheap St, Sherborne. Oliverscoffeehouse.co.uk