Historic Scarborough cafe Bonnet's plans to reopen while a buyer is found

One of Scarborough’s oldest cafes has been spruced up during lockdown in the hope of attracting a new owner

By Sarah Fitton
Thursday, 2nd July 2020, 2:26 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd July 2020, 2:29 pm
Owner John Fairbank.
Owner John Fairbank.

Bonnet’s – the Scarborough tearoom that has been serving up treats since 1880 – was put up for sale just weeks before the coronavirus restrictions hit and it was forced to shut.

Owner John Fairbank said several people had shown an interest in the Huntriss Row cafe before the pandemic hit.

He has used the enforced closure to redecorate the historic tearoom and it will open its doors once more this Saturday.

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The cafe is for sale for the first time since 1959

“I’m a bit nervous about it,” he said. “I had moved the tables to a metre apart but I’m moving them back to two metres apart.

“I’ve been training the staff in the realities of sterilising and making sure everything is right.

“We’ll have two doors – one for the entrance and one for the exit.

“We’ve put notices up asking for customers to be patient because service won’t be as quick at first.”

The sign above the cafe

Mr Fairbank, 72, has run the cafe since 1975, and it’s been in his family for longer – his parents took it over in 1959. He is now selling up as he prepares to retire.

The cafe has a fascinating history – it was established by Swiss confectioner Louis Bonnet as a chocolate shop and restaurant, originally in premises on St Nicholas Street. His son took over the running of the business, but he died suddenly at the age of just 35 in 1928 and the Bonnet involvement ended not long after. The Fairbanks bought the cafe in 1959 and moved it to the current site a year later.

In the early 1900s, Louis Bonnet’s empire expanded to include cafes in Bradford, Sheffield and Middlesbrough – his fellow Swiss immigrant Frederick Belmont took a job in the Bradford branch in the early 20th century to learn the ropes of the English trade when he first arrived in the country. The young baker later founded Bettys, Yorkshire’s most famous tearoom – and even bought the old Bradford shop from his former employer to open under Bettys branding.

The warren of corridors behind Bonnet’s cafe and restaurant leads to the chocolate factory, which has been described as Scarborough’s best-kept secret.

Bonnet’s has had many celebrity customers over the years – actor Michael Caine popped in every night for a meal while filming the musical Little Voice in the town in 1998. “He was a really nice bloke, and would always ask for a table hidden round the corner.” Cricketing legends Geoffrey Boycott and Dickie Bird have also visited, as have members of the Emmerdale cast.

Mr Fairbank likes to maintain tradition at Bonnet’s – he still has some of the original Edwardian chocolate moulds used by Louis in his possession, and past menus are displayed on the walls.

Bonnet’s is for sale with a guide price of £480,000 through Scarborough estate agents Colin Ellis. All fixtures, fittings and equipment are included in the lot. The property comprises a ground floor cafe, upstairs restaurant, chocolate factory/bakery, two kitchens and living accommodation.