Forty-five years ago Philip Eastwood and his wife Margaret stumped up £500 to buy a tearoom beside a stop on the Hope Valley railway line in the Peak District – establishing a family business and a countryside institution that survives to this day.
And, says their son Phillip, who now runs the Grindleford Station Café, there is a reason the place has endured.
“It’s not changed with the times,” he explains, sitting down at a table inside what has long been a refuelling stop for hungry hikers and bikers tempted by the idea of a huge full English breakfast.
A fire is crackling away in the hearth, original British Rail signs hang on the white-painted, wood-panelled walls and, in the kitchen, enough bacon to feed an army can be glimpsed cooking on the grill.
“It’s an old-school, greasy spoon-style café, basically,” Phillip remarks. “We still do traditional food.”
The 45th anniversary brings ‘mixed emotions’, says his wife Kulbir, who works for the business alongside her part-time job as a contracts manager for Sheffield Hallam University.
Margaret died when Phillip was a child, while Phil senior was claimed by a sudden heart attack in 2007.
“It brings out the memories of his parents, looking through all the old photos and stuff,” says Kulbir. “But then, there’s not many family, independent businesses left that have gone on this long.”
Phillip’s father – a one-time lorry driver, nightclub bouncer, debt collector, steelworker, hot dog seller and chip shop owner – took over the former station building in November 1973. He purchased the tearoom from its boss, Phyllis Reynolds, paying her in instalments over a year.
“It was literally just teas and coffees, and cakes,” says Phillip. “Obviously when he took it over they gutted the place and made a kitchen.”
The smart little building only had gas power – no electricity – and they needed to add toilets, more seating and paving outside.
“It was a really big challenge for them,” Phillip says.
Phil senior was a larger-than-life character. The café was famed for its notices pinned up around the premises warning against uncontrolled children and dogs, the use of mobile phones and dumping empty plates on the counter, among other directives.
Most have now been taken down, but a couple remain. A board outside tells patrons not to be ‘rowdy’ while inside, near the servery, another sign announces: “I can only please one person per day; today’s not your day, and tomorrow doesn’t look good either.”
His personality could be endearing, but also off-putting, Phillip admits. “He was liked by many but hated by many,” he says, laughing. “Some people thought ‘Oh, he’s got a good sense of humour’, and others thought ‘How rude’.
Phillip, 30, had just started a business management degree in Leeds when his father died. He immediately decided to pull out of the course and take on the café, which was held in trust until he was 25.
“I never saw myself running a café, so to speak. I realised I should take over the family business because it would kill me to see someone else running it now. And it would have done then.”
In Kulbir’s eyes, they are upholding the Eastwood legacy. “We’ve changed things materially, and updated, but the actual food and the way we work, and the values of the place, have stayed the same. We refuse to change them, because they’re Phillip’s mum and dad’s.”
The café’s location at the end of Padley Gorge, a magnet for daytrippers, helps to ensure a steady stream of customers, who span generations.
“They’ve come in and said ‘please don’t ever change it, we bring our grandkids now because we love it for how it is’,” says Phillip.
And if the café ever became too ‘foodie’, or put up its prices – listed on a giant blackboard over the counter – people would be up in arms, he thinks. Portions are large, with chip butties and full breakfasts the perennial best sellers. The chips are twice-cooked.
It is a year-round venture, only closing on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Two years ago, later opening hours were experimented with, but the idea was dropped because of the extra workload.
The café is at the centre of Grindleford’s rural community. It is part of the railway station’s Friends group, who plant flowers and keep the area tidy, as well as being involved with Inspired by the Peak District, a council initiative to promote tourism. Fundraisers are regularly held for the local mountain rescue.
Phillip and Kulbir, 38, have been together for five years, and got married 12 months ago. The couple, from Sheffield, love to travel and are careful to take holidays.
“As soon as all the kids go back to school, we go away,” says Kulbir, who describes herself as the café’s ‘planner’, with Phillip as the ‘doer’.
“She plans the staff rota a lot more in advance than I did,” he says.
Future plans include a timeline on the café’s back wall, telling the diner’s story through the decades.
So do the Eastwoods think the café will be around for another 45 years?
“Fingers crossed,” says Kulbir. “I can’t see myself doing anything else,” Phillip says. “Hopefully it will never change.”
‘Nature’s little secret’ in a bottle
Kulbir is in charge of marketing Grindleford Spring Water, a sideline started by Phil senior who began bottling the fresh water that rises nearby.
Twenty-five local companies, as well as 3,000 staff working for firms upgrading the railway line between Derby and Chesterfield, are supplied with refreshments from the Grindleford spring. The spring water is branded as ‘nature’s little secret’.