Cake, coffee and kindness: the Matlock cafe that cares
Jess Gregory, boss of The Garden Room in Matlock defiantly refuses the offer of a time machine. When asked where she would go, when and why, she glances around her cafe full of chatter and clinks of cups, and says “I’d stay where I am. I’m loving it”.
Jess took over the cafe in lockdown, the gift shop a little after. “I knew what I was letting myself in for. It was fine. I mean it wasn’t fine. But it was fine!”
She laughs as she tells this, and her delivery is very telling. Her brave move from a job she wasn’t happy in, having her second child then deciding to take over a cafe during lockdown.
“I was umming and ahhing about what I was going to do, and I wasn’t sure, and this came up and I thought ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’”
If you think Jess is an absolute lioness after reading that, get ready, because there’s more to the story.
“And we bought our house, me and my husband, about five years ago, and it’s an absolute building site. So all our money that was going to be spent on not living on a building site is now spent on me having a lovely shop.”
Jess’s laughter rises above the hubbub of chat and cutlery. The cafe is full. The shop has people at the counter buying birthday cards. Clearly, Jess is winning.
“I don’t quite look at things as an adult should look at things. So, worst case scenario, we’d lose that chunk of money and I’d go and get a proper job. But I think most adults do more adulting and write everything down and think things through and worry about things. I can’t see the point in it. It either works or it doesn’t work. If we have to close tomorrow, I’ve really really enjoyed it and it’s been fun.”
For sure, The Garden Room won’t be closing tomorrow. The conversation turns to Jess’s team here.
“My mum came out of retirement to help me out, and now seems to be here seven days a week, which is amazing. And Mez. Mez is Susanna’s niece, who used to run the shop, so I sort of inherited her with the cafe, and we just became best friends.”
Mez is Merren Lathwood, and she describes her role here as “I make coffees for people, and slices of cake, but also I sit and have a chat with people… I absolutely love it. It doesn’t feel like a job”.
Jess describes Mez as “super-bubbly and happy and kind”. The first two elements are quickly apparent, the ‘kind’ revealing itself as Mez chats warmly about her customers.
“I look at them like family members. I like looking after them. We have a regular called Rob, and he’s absolutely amazing. He reminds me of Mr Fredricksen from Up. I sit with him and have my lunch nearly every day.”
“We have a lady called Margaret that comes in. She’s lovely, and I’m taking her out on Saturday. Sometimes you might be the only person they get to talk to. I’d want someone to do it for me. If I can be that person, then I’m happy to do it.”
Mez smiles, adding “I feel so comfortable here, I feel it’s my second home. I hope for some people that they feel the same as well when they come in.”
When asked what it’s like working with Jess, Mez laughs, and looking across to the counter where Jess is making a coffee, says “She’s annoying… just kidding. Jess is absolutely amazing. She’s one of the kindest, smartest people I’ve ever met.”
In the gift shop, Jess’s mum Tricia Gillies is tidying a shelf. In the cafe, a lady sits by a couple with a dog to write a birthday card, and a chat is started. Rob comes in, and Mez scurries across to sort him with coffee and cake.
When asked to describe The Garden Room, Jess says “The cafe seems to have taken over a little hub of its own. People come, and they come on their own and they know that they’ll have someone to talk to. Or not to talk to if they want. They can happily sit in silence. Most of our regular customers become friends. I love it. And the shop is just an eclectic mix. But again, I love that as well.”
No doubt, this place is a happy place. So what’s the wisdom of lioness Jess?
“I think everybody is worried about what everyone else has got. You’ve got to have a nice car. You’ve got to have nice things in your house. Designer label clothes. None of that matters. If you’re doing something you enjoy then you may as well be happy in yourself.”
And Mez’s worldview? “Just be happy. Whatever you do in the world, as long as you’re happy it doesn’t matter to anybody. Because it’s your life. You don’t live your life through other people. You’ve got to do it for yourself. So, whatever it is, make sure you’re enjoying every moment. Be a nice person as well. Don’t be grumpy all the time. You don’t want to be remembered as a grumpy person. You want to be remembered as a loving and caring person.”
The Garden Room in Matlock: cake, coffee and kindness.