Douglas Gillam’s family have been at the heart of Ulverston trade for more than a century. Ten years ago he and his wife Shirley bought a ‘sad and tired café’ with a one bedroom flat up top for them and their two young children, both of whom now work in the business. It sits across the road from where for 112 years his family ran a grocers. They renovated the whole building using a lot of reclaimed materials as well as local slate.
A decade on and Gillam’s is now a thriving tearoom with a shop next door. Both are vegetarian and more than 90% of everything for sale is organic. “If you look hard enough you can source everything organic if you want to – we even sell organic turmeric in the shop and all of the 80 teas and 13 coffees we serve are organic too.”
Douglas calls himself the cook, ‘chef’s a bit poncey’, he protests, and makes everything from scratch. Apart from the usual tearoom fayre – sandwiches etc he also serves a wide variety of specials including curries, tagines and cassoulets.
He’s proud of his sustainable credentials and the business’ place in the community, insisting that it’s wholesome not hippy! “I don’t wear opened toe sandals and have a rat’s tail – you don’t have to be hippy to live right – it’s just about fairness and treating people as you’d like to be treated.” This is demonstrated in the support the tearoom provides a local special needs school and the Loch Arthur community which is one of its suppliers.
What do you think makes food good?
It’s at its best in its purest unadulterated form and when it reflects the different regions it can provide a whole world of flavours and traditions. We do a lot of Cumbrian and Lakeland dishes.
What are the three reasons people should vote for you?
We are upholding tradition, the organic movement and vegetarianism.
What is your signature dish?
It has to be our afternoon tea – it’s a sandwich of choice with organic bread from the local bakery, with a range of fillings including local organic cheeses, homemade tapenade and roasted veg, scones which and cakes, all made by my wife, which are delicious but we try not to put too much sugar in. We’re wholesome but not hippy! And then top it off with organic clotted cream and jam from a social enterprise.
What’s the one ingredient you couldn’t do without?
Smaller portions or doggy bags?
Doggy bags – we give our customers a biodegradable box to take home anything they can’t finish.
Meat or veg?
Veg – of course!!
Living Wage or bigger tips?
We reward all our staff according to their abilities.
We do pay several staff a Living Wage but we’re not Living Wage employers.
Describe the philosophy of the restaurant in three words
Traditional, sustainable, vegetarian.
Describe what it would mean for your restaurant to be voted People’s Favourite
It would mean a real lot to me as it’s come completely out of the blue. It’s really touched us that people value us this much. To have wider recognition from people that visit us and recognise our values means so much to us. Some people in catering think they’ve made it when they get a Range Rover, that’s their reward – but for me it’s not just about money. It’s about values.
Who’s the most important member of your team and why?
My wife Shirley – she bakes all the cakes, does the books and runs the front of house. We couldn’t do it without her. And I’d like to mention one more person, Mercy who is our Hungarian ninja who works very hard in many areas in the tearoom and who we value very much,