Inside: Bunty’s Tea Room

It has won many awards and is a favourite for both locals and visitors. Becky Lancashire takes us inside Bunty’s Tea Room.

Photo: Emily Braybrooke

Photo: Emily Braybrooke

“I’m going to take you back to the Autumn of 2012”, he says mysteriously as I, intrigued, sit completely still in the warm and cosy upstairs of a very special building at the top of Lincoln’s Steep Hill. Sipping tea gently from an old china cup, he takes a drink, preparing himself to unveil the finest details about the very building in which we were sitting. The building that is home to none other than Bunty’s Tea Room.

Born in Hertfordshire, Matt Felgate moved to Lincoln at the age of 21. He said: “I feel like although I went to school down south, I grew up here. This is definitely home for me.”

In September 2012, Matt and his fiancé, Jenny, had their lives completely turned around. Jenny, who worked for a signage and sponsorship company, and Matt, an ex-RAF employee, decided that working in jobs that they were both unhappy with meant it was time for a change.

Matt said: “We went into business to have a new life, make money and have a better standard of living. I wanted a pub, like blokes do, and Jenny wanted a Bistro.”

After showing their initial interest in the industry they became aware that a certain residence, found at number 18 Steep Hill, was on the market. The space, which was also a café at the time, caught their eye.

“We thought it had lots of potential, but we didn’t know what that potential was. We didn’t have a business plan, so we went against all rules of opening your own business. We had no real idea of what we wanted to do except put 110% into it”.

“We had no real idea of what we wanted to do except put 110% into it”.

Armed with ambition, the pair didn’t hesitate in taking the risk, but they still had no idea it would turn into the vintage artwork it is today.

Photo: Emily Braybrooke

Photo: Emily Braybrooke

Matt said: “The customers have made this theme. The only thing we wanted was to change the crockery, so we changed all the china and it’s nice because everything is mismatched.

“We both like antiques and so we bought a few things and got some from auctions. It’s an old building, it’s an old area, so it fits.

“The decorations get conversations started, which adds to the atmosphere and the customers’ experience.”

In addition to the fine display of crockery, photographs and ornaments, customers also suggested that they play some 1930s and 40s music to really set the mood.

Matt admitted this is his favourite part of the job. He said: “I love getting to know people and talking to them about their story and where they’re from, why they’ve come to Bunty’s and what they’re going to do afterwards. I like to give them little pointers about where to go and what to see.”

Due to this strong relationship that Matt, Jenny and their small team have and maintain with their customers – both regulars and tourists – they always aim to keep the quality of the service and food high on their priority list.

Matt said: “There are lots of eateries around, so we’ve got to stand out and do something a little bit different, so we like to experiment with quirky and traditional flavours and just try and be a bit imaginative.

“I think we are special and we try our hardest to offer the best service, value for money, portion sizes, and high-quality ingredients so people get what they’re paying for and a little bit more.”

“I think we are special and we try our hardest to offer the best service.”

Photo: Emily Braybrooke

Photo: Emily Braybrooke

It was this quality and dedication that has not only led to queues forming outside of the Grade II listed building each day, but also several recognitions and awards.

Last year, Bunty’s reached nationals in the Vintage Awards for its afternoon teas, events and service. It has also been rated the number one place to eat in Lincoln on Trip Advisor.

Despite the positives Matt has seen during his time working at Bunty’s, he admitted that the job isn’t always an easy ride.

He said: “The most challenging thing about working here is learning to become a manager. I’m not finding it a struggle, but I am finding it stressful.

“Learning to manage staff and not letting work carry on into your home life is a balance you have to find.

“We don’t see our friends as much, and we don’t have weekends because when everyone else is off, we’re going to be extra busy.”

In addition to its every day service, Bunty’s also hosts private functions for several different occasions including hen parties, baby showers, birthdays and business meetings.

Photo: Emily Braybrooke.

Photo: Emily Braybrooke.

With the last year being so popular for tourism in Lincoln, due to the re-opening of Lincoln Castle, the 800th birthday of the Magna Carta and the well-received baron trail, Matt says he hopes 2016 can follow in the successful footsteps of 2015.

He said: “We’re growing a reputation now which adds pressure, so we’ve got to be ahead of the game, be consistent and keep the quality up, but hopefully Bunty’s will be a household name for many, many years to come.”