A garden centre has expanded with a ?60,000 investment in its restaurant, creating new job opportunities and extending the food business outside into a floral showpiece area.
Bawdeswell Garden Centre, off the A1067 between Norwich and Fakenham, has been growing steadily since it was bought by Peter and Judy Underwood in 1983 ? originally as a conifer nursery.
The company?s food service operation was added a few years later, but by 2001 the restaurant had become so popular that it had outgrown its original capacity, so a larger new kitchen and office were opened in the summer of 2012.
This was followed with an expanded servery area in May 2013, before attention focused on the lack of tables and chairs during busy times. Earlier this year, Mr and Mrs Underwood embarked on their biggest project so far, to build a hand-crafted oak-framed conservatory on the side of the existing Reeve?s Parlour restaurant, to provide more seated covers for dining.
And the work is now finally completed, including a new outside dining area which overlooks the Millennium Garden, the ornate landscaped area complete with fish pond, stream and fountain, which displays many of the plants and trees for sale at the centre.
Mr Underwood said: ?It has always been my vision to link the restaurant to the Millennium Garden. It has taken a while to get there, but we are very proud of ourselves.
?We started the restaurant with a kettle, and now we have 194 covers altogether, of which 40 are outside. We have gradually built it up over the years, which has become necessary because of the demand.
?It is quite a big part of why people come here. We are 20 minutes from Norwich, Dereham, Aylsham and Fakenham, but we have very little on our doorstep, so people have got to get in their car to come here ? so we try and make it pleasant for them.
?Our core business is just the same as it ever was, but to survive in this world you have got to do other things as well. People wouldn?t come here if we just sold plants.?
Mrs Underwood said the latest extension had created two new jobs, and that the centre now had 23 people working on the food side of the business, out of a total of 43 staff on the books, including seasonal and part-time workers.
She said the restaurant team had developed with the drive of manager Janice Harris and resident chef Paul Platten.
The Underwoods? next planned project is to open a children?s play area in a bid to attract families, and the covered outside seating area also hosts events including the regular ?Jazz in the Garden? concerts, with the next one due at midday on August 24.