I discovered Bill’s a few years back when I met a friend for lunch in Lewes and was immediately delighted by the inviting atmosphere (think old church chairs, and pine tables with wildflowers in vases, surrounded by shelves of beautiful store-cupboard staples) and of course, the mouthwatering food – a real celebration of eating.
I was delighted to hear Bill speak on the radio – he’s clearly passionate about food and has developed a business doing what he loves. “I feel really humble, in my life I’ve been very lucky so far. I come from a family of growers – fruit picking, planting, and pruning around Kent, and my father went on to buy a nursery and fruit farm just outside Lewes…an amazing place to grow up”.
He said he was pretty lazy, and working for his father was probably the easy option, but his heart was not in it – it wasn’t very glamorous getting dirt under his fingernails. Bill’s Cafe & Produce Store started out of not much more than a shed 20 years ago (his Dad had bought a building in Lewes, and told Bill to go and do something with “shop” next door). Since the only thing Bill knew was fresh produce, he bought produce from the local market and sold it. He always enjoyed the artistic thing and felt like he was putting on a show every day: “I liked the praise when people were wowed when they walked into the store.” He never worried about people buying the stuff, in fact he didn’t really want them to as it ruined the display!
The shop was submerged underwater in what is simply known in Lewes as “the flood” in 2000. His wife’s sister (Bill married the “Saturday girl”) was a big influence on the development of the cafe side of Bill’s – she thought it would make an amazing cafe in and amongst the fresh produce. They took over the lease of the shop next door and from day one people loved it.
Heartfelt recipes, following the season show how much fresh, seasonal produce is valued – as Bill says: “we love it when the apples turn up”. Produce that is in the shop one day, will go into the soup the next – nothing is wasted. (“Cook, Eat, Smile” a book of the cafe’s recipes has just been launched).
Everyone who works at Bill’s is equally passionate about food, from the preparation of unusual recipes to the presentation of the food (“oohs and ahhs” always accompany the arrival of the desserts), so Bill has clearly surrounded himself with like-minded people. I can confirm that eating in the midst of the ingredients is the most wonderful experience, and I urge you to try out one of the cafes as this lovely business expands keeping all the owner’s values well and truly intact.