For more than 100 years, beach goers in Chalkwell have stopped off for a bite to eat or a cuppa at a cafe perched on the edge of the sands.
The pit stop, in Chalkwell Esplanade, even predates the railway station, whose bridge it is nestled beneath.
Now, in its newest incarnation as Saltwater Beach Café, it’s fast becoming the town’s most cherished beach-side bistro, loved by celebs like Essex’s Lee Mead, thanks to the Carr family.
The family took over the café in February, and after a complete renovation, opened their (bi-folding glass) doors in time for the first bank holiday in April.
“It took us five weeks to complete” says owner, mum-of-two, Liz Carr.
“And we mainly focused on the complete redecoration of the café, giving it a fresh clean appearance and made the area previously used for the sale of beach goods a nice place for people to sit and eat on the premises.”
So, what was the appeal of the spot?
“I have always had a passion for alternative health, nutrition and great tasting food and we have discussed owning a beach cafe for a while so when the opportunity came up we took it,” explains Liz, 42. “My earliest childhood memories were playing on the beach or going to the park, but now as parents we are increasingly aware of the limitations of letting our children play safely outside without parental supervision.
“We wanted to create a community cafe where people can come and grab a tasty, healthy bite to eat and drink and also where parents can still keep a watchful eye on the children while allowing them an element of freedom to play and explore the beach.
“All our takeaway packaging is environmentally friendly which is another thing we are passionate about when setting up the cafe, We often post on our social media pages about keeping our beaches clean and hope our positive messages have an influence on the visitors to the beach.”
Liz worked in London for 18 years before training to be a yoga instructor after her daughters, now eight and six, were born.
The café, which seats 24 inside, has taken over her life somewhat, though she would eventually like to manage to maintain both passions.
But what does she know of the history of the site?
“When we first opened, we had a visit from a gentleman called Peter Knock who gifted the cafe an original tea cup from the Grosvenor Tea Rooms, which is now in a presentation box at the café,” says Liz.
“Peter gave us an extensive insight into the history of the cafe and also gave us some copies of photographs taken of the cafe when there were no houses along Chalkwell Esplanade! We absolutely love the history behind the site where Saltwater is and we have had many interesting conversations with customers who used to visit the cafe when they were young and they are now bringing their grandchildren here.
“It’s great to be able to continue the tradition of serving cups of tea and great food on such a historical site.”
Beside the history. what else might people be surprised to know about Saltwater?
“We offer a range of food and ice creams for people who have food intolerance’s and allergies. We can offer egg free, dairy free, gluten free and vegan dishes,” says Liz.
And what is her favourite dish at the cafe?
“I would have to say for breakfast the vegan avocado on sourdough with lemon oil and balsamic glaze with fresh chilli or the Brunch sandwich from our specials menu.
“We taste test everything before it goes on to the menu, so I’m very happy with all of the food that we serve.”
The cafe recently got an alcohol license. What difference will that make? Aside, from making lunching mummies and parched dog walkers very happy?
“The alcohol license is an added extra for those who enjoy a glass of wine with their meal. For us the main focus has always been on the food and experience of the cafe.”
But Saltwater is more than just a café… it also offers paddle boarding taster sessions. How did that come about?
“As a family we like making the most of the outdoors and the beach and we have paddleboards of our own which we frequently use,” smiles Liz.
“We thought it would be a nice experience to be able to offer SUP taster sessions to our customers, so we teamed up with a local company Wet ‘n’ Dry Boardsports to be able to give people supervised sessions using the latest, top of the range paddleboards with an experienced, instructor.
“We feel it has been successful in encouraging people to make the most of the beaches we have on our doorstep and although it’s now the end of season for Saltwater SUP, we intend to offer the same opportunity next year.”
What changes will Liz make at Saltwater for the winter?
“We have recently updated our menu with some new autumnal dishes and are we opening a little later on a Friday evening for after school tea for the children. We will be open all year round so people can enjoy great coffee on the winter walks along the seafront and we have a few other ideas…”
- During the winter, Saltwater is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 09.30am-3pm, Friday 09.30am-7pm, and Saturday and Sunday 09.30am-4pm. Dogs aren’t allowed in the cafe, but there is seating on the veranda and staff are happy to pop out with drinks and food. There are dog bowls outside for their refreshment too. For more information, go to www.saltwaterbeachcafe.co.uk
This post was first published in the Echo newspaper on Thursday, November 9, 2017: www.echo-news.co.uk