Roper aims for a point of difference in kitchens

Blue Diamond managing director Alan Roper has said using non-commercial equipment in garden centre kitchens will give a point of difference from garden centres that are looking at Costa Coffee-style solutions.

Opening the rebuilt Redfields phase one (see p25), Roper said: "Milk is from a Guernsey milk can. Chefs are on view and tea and coffee are in pots and the cups are eclectic. We have jars of tea and coffee on display and you can touch and feel the Basilur tea. I'm fed up with milky lattes. You make more money if the coffee has less milk."

Mezze cakes are another idea, with eight different cakes if you cannot decide what you want. "Restaurants in garden centres can get a bit nondescript, though there's some great ideas at Bents or Barton Grange for instance.

"I wanted to create a homely feel. For instance, we have John Lewis toasters and retro microwaves - no commercial equipment."

Roper said his upmarket customers will increase." They don't go to Forest Lodge or Badshot Lea," he added. "We're less than 10 minutes from the M3 and A3, and Cobham inside the M25 is 30 minutes away, so there's lots of population.

"Sundries and plants are next door to each other so from the restaurant and sundries and non-gardening you're straight into plants. Plants are the heart of what I did at Guernsey and here.

"Guernsey was a square field so octagonal fitted well. This is a linear site so had to be this, but simple to cut into the box to bring plants in."

Redfields uses flexible trestle tables for plants, natural chalkboard A4 signs and plans a moveable sleeper bed system. There is a mezzanine with a spiral staircase around a tree. The area is selling clothing at the moment but it will be a restaurant.

The farm shop, Blue Diamond's fourth under the Brown & Green name, uses local suppliers. Roper is looking for gardening stockists with a point of difference.

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