On Sunday morning it was -1′ outside and 8′ in the water at Queenford Lakes near Wallingford. Hardly surprising then that by 9am The Wandering Kitchen had already served 350 cups of tea and coffee to grateful swimmers delighted that their favourite cafe was still open despite the pandemic.
“It’s been good for us. We are back to what we love doing the most”
That The Wandering Kitchen is open at all is a similar miracle. Run by Jo and Ed Chapman, the lakeside cafe has served Oxford Wet n Wild, Queenford Lakes Swimming and Oxford Wake board and Ski Club for three years now.
The couple also had two cafes on Milton Business Park, a catering/popup event van, an industrial kitchen unit, and a collective of 20 pop up food units to take to events, to manage.
And then Covid hit, events dried up, business parks became like ghost towns, the lakeside tarade was seasonal, and the Chapmans had to sit down and have a long hard look at the future.
“IT WAS A VERY EMOTIONAL TIME WHILE WE WORKED OUT OUR OPTIONS. I’M NOT GOING TO PRETEND THAT IT HASN’T BEEN PAINFUL”
“It was a very emotional time while we worked out our options. I’m not going to pretend that it hasn’t been painful. It was pretty horrible closing all the other arms of the business.
“But we didn’t rush into anything. We resisted the urge to make a knee jerk decision and soon realised that things weren’t going to go back to normal, but the lakeside cafe had all the potential we were looking for – that if we wanted to do anything we could do it there,” Jo explains.
The result is much more permanent business at Queensford Lakes serving takeaways over lockdown and more recently opening up its outdoor space.
“We are going to be here for the foreseeable future. That’s the plan”
Come May 17 the Chapmans plan to be open day and night inside and out, serving their famed gourmet burgers – halloumi, venison and wild boar – salads and toasties, which we can all enjoy regardless of our aquatic prowess.
“It’s been good for us. We are back to what we love doing the most,” Jo continues. “I’m front of house and making the coffees and Ed is cooking.
“We are happier now but it’s been a long journey to get here and work out what we wanted to do and how to proceed, not that we are alone in this. It’s been awful for the whole hospitality industry.”
“We know we made the right decision and we are happier for it. We could have changed the name to The Cafe On The Lake but we are still The Wandering Kitchen, it’s who we are.
“It’s been the right move. We have a got a whole new clientele unrelated to Oxford Wet n Wild, who come here from Wallingford, Berinsfield, Drayton St Leonard, Dorchester and elsewhere in South Oxfordshire.
“And we use local suppliers where possible from Vicars Game for our meat, Horsebox Coffee Company in Brightwell Cum Sotwell for our coffee and hope to serve Tap Social beer in the evenings.”
“we have come out the other side with a very different business But we are stronger for it and happier. We know exactly where we want to be”
And come the summer when Oxford Wet n Wild reopens on May 29, The Wandering Kitchen is also opening a separate coffee van and ice cream van to free up the cafe.
So despite everything the future looks bright for the Chapmans. “We’ve made some really difficult decisions and have come out the other side with a very different business, but we are stronger for it and happier. We know exactly where we want to be.
“We have an amazing team, are very happy with the whole Wandering Kitchen concept and very postive. We are going to be here for the foreseeable future. That’s the plan. “
Wandering Kitchen is at Queenford Lakes, Burcot Lane, OX10 7PQ.
To find out more about us visit: www.thewanderingkitchen.co.uk
Oxford Wet N Wild https://www.oxfordwetnwild.com/Oxford Wake Board and Ski Club https://owsc.co.uk/Queenford Lakes Open Water Swimming https://www.facebook.com/Queenford-Lakes-Open-Water-Swimming-133546296726606