Powderham Farm Shop – Living The Pipedream
All content and photos by Joff Alexander-Frye
Powderham Farm Shop is one of those places that you could lose yourselves in for hours without really knowing you had lost track of time. A veritable grotto of goodness, it has some of the finest local food, drink and homeware that money can buy, served with a beautiful mixture of traditional values and modern customer-focus. They stock the types of products that make you want to read every label, engrossing yourself in the origin stories, ingredients and brand values of some of the culinary gems of the region.
Set within the beautiful grounds of Powderham Castle in Kenton (home to the Earl of Devon and his family), I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with the farm shop’s new owners, Tom and Leanne Klinkenberg, who took over the running of the farm shop in July 2018.
Leanne, formerly a Civil Servant for fourteen years and Tom, who has carved out a successful career in corporate healthcare in London, make a great team. Visibly and demonstrably close-knit, they exuded a sense of family, togetherness and unity. They were also both straight-talking and I imagine this mixture of soft and hard skills is one of the many reasons that their venture as new owners of Powderham Farm Shop has been such a success.
“Our Powderham journey started last year on a plane home from Las Vegas! I had surprised Tom with a trip there for his 40th birthday and it was on the flight home that we got talking about both of our stressful jobs and our desire for a better work/life balance. Conversation turned to our aspirations to change career and our dormant dream as a couple, to one day own a café or delicatessen. So, I got out my phone, connected to the plane’s Wi-Fi and searched for ‘Delicatessens for sale in Devon’ and Powderham Farm Shop came up first. It immediately grabbed our attention and interest so we booked a viewing there and the rest is history.”
“We have been incredibly lucky to inherit a business in such a good state, with such an amazing team. Whilst we’ve run businesses before, this is our first foray into retail and I has been a steep learning curve. We couldn’t have done it without the support, expertise, energy and passion of our team.”
Originally from Ashburton and Paignton respectively, Tom and Leanne describe themselves as “Devonshire Dumplings” and commented,
“We don’t think that Devon is willing to shout about itself sometimes. Whether that is British politeness or a lack of confidence in its offering, it needs to change. We have so much to be proud of here in Devon and I know that the Earl shares the same opinion. For Devon to thrive and grow, it needs to step up and start being a little more confident in celebrating its success, particularly when it comes to the food and drink sector. We just don’t know how spoiled we are in this part of the world with the variety and quality of food and drink being produced.”
Central to the offering of any successful farm shop is a quality butchery and Powderham Farm Shop has one of the greatest in the area. With most of their meat coming from within 1.5 miles, Tom and Leanne are able to understand in fine detail the rearing conditions, diet and treatment of the animals that they get their meat from. Forging good relationships with local farmers has been key to the success of the butchery and they continue to offer an impressive range and quality of meats. All of the desirable indicators of good quality meat are satisfied by the butchery; grass-fed, organic, longhorn, local. For those of us that eat meat, you’d be hard-pressed to find better on the market. Add on top of that the fact that they have some of the finest venison meat on the market produced on the same estate as the shop, and you can see why I describe their butchery as one of the greatest in the area.
Another staple for a farm shop is their fruit and veg offering. Again, working with key local suppliers, Tom and Leanne try as best as they can to prioritise locality and seasonality over mass-availability. This ensures a strong seasonal range of local fruit and veg; from the local soil, for local people to enjoy. Priority is placed on Fair Trade and organic items, with an absolute minimum of single-use plastics being used and significant attempts to minimise the number of ‘food-miles’ which have been travelled to get the produce from source to shop.
Speaking about some of their key focuses since taking over the farm shop, Tom commented,
“Really, the simple key to success in running a farm shop is focusing on three things; wherever possible prioritising the produce being local, the produce being ethically created and the produce being different and interesting from those sold elsewhere. If we can give our customers those three ingredients, it makes for an experience that they will come back time and time again for.”
“The locality of our produce is also vitally important to the Powderham Estate. Whether you look at their production of venison, their historic involvement with the purported creation of the cream tea or the annual Food Festival, the estate has food and drink woven into its DNA. We have talked at length with the Earl, his wife and their team about our offering and have invited them to input into certain aspects of the business. In particular, their commitment and focus on locality comes through very strongly. ”
At the heart of Tom and Leanne’s ethos is community and fashioning a close relationship with the area around them in Kenton. Whether it is their commitment to Force Cancer Charity who they donate to, building relationships with the local primary school or holding events for the community to attend, the Klinkenbergs have embarked on the dual-mission of building a business and building community. It isn’t a ‘soft-around-the-edges’ commitment either. Tom and Leanne described it to me as
“a way of life and a two-way relationship between the shop and the community”.
Outside of work, Tom and Leanne have two children; Francesca (aged 7) and Alfred (aged 5). Tom also has a seventeen-year-old who lives in Dubai and, when asked about the future for their family, stated,
“At the moment, the kids just think that we own a massive sweet shop! Our long-term desire is to create an expanding business which we can pass on to our children, should they want to take it on. My seventeen-year-old has already started working in the farm shop whenever she comes back to the UK and we are excited to, hopefully, see the farm shop grow into a truly family business in the future.”
When I asked what motivated them to take the risk of pursuing their ‘pipedream’, Leanne stoically responded,
“I’m the dreamer and Tom is the one that makes things happen. Many people talk about their dreams but never make it happen. Not us. It just got to the point where we would’ve kicked ourselves if we didn’t give it our best shot. The time was right and we knew we could get through it together. It has been really hard work, but immensely enjoyable at the same time.”
From a strategic basis, Tom and Leanne have worked hard to carry on the good work of the previous owners whilst, at the same time, putting their own stamp on things. This has mainly entailed slimming down a few of the product lines to create space and ‘room for the products to breathe’ as well as making their gift section a bit more premium and investing time and energy into sourcing more local suppliers.
“Our radars are always on. We regularly spot things when we’re out and about that we like and the photo galleries on our phones are full of products, displays and ideas that we’ve seen in other places. We would welcome hearing from any local producers or suppliers as we broaden our stock across the shop.”
I found Tom and Leanne to be exactly the types of people I can imagine running a community farm shop. Friendly to ‘the Nth degree’, hard-working, unwilling to settle for second-best and deeply interested in true expressions of community.
If you haven’t been down to Powderham Farm Shop before, or last visited a while ago, I would say it’s about time you paid Tom and Leanne a visit. Oh, and if you do, buy me one of the many bottles of lager on sale there, would you?
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