Magdalen Road is a strip of fabulous independent shops in the residential area of St Leonards in Exeter, just a short walk and yet what feels like a million miles from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. It is a treasured part of our local community and where the neighbourhood Christmas fair is held every year - the road is closed off to traffic, the traders spill out onto the pavement, there is festive food, mulled wine, carol singers and full-on merriment. Over recent years, with the arrival of a new Waitrose nearby and the Exeter restaurant scene exploding with new openings, Magdalen Road has seen several of its long-established businesses disappear, including a butchers, greengrocers, and several cafes. I do not take for granted the security of knowing that I am never more than a five minute drive from Heston for Waitrose’s Marmalade on Toast Icecream, but I care strongly about supporting local independents.
The Sandwiched Inn was for many years a small cafe on Magdalen Road open every day at the crack of dawn serving takeaway bacon sarnies, Coronation Chicken baguettes, cheese toasties, giant jacket potatoes, brownies… a hearty, soul-nourishing carb-fest. At the beginning of the year it went up for sale, following a familiar pattern of closing independent cafes, which I assumed would spell the end for another much loved, local food business. However, step forward James and Shell who, having previously lived in Sweden where James built boats (ummm why was this career option never mentioned to me at school? How much do you now want to learn how to build boats and move to Sweden?) were looking for a new adventure; a small enough business to be able to manage themselves but with scope to make it their own.
James put his multi-skills in plumbing and building to use, extending into premises next door to create a new space for seating which leads directly through to the neighbouring Grocer on The Green, home to our wonderful fruit and veg man Dan who had previously been trading on a weather dependent stall on the green but can now be found laughing at the rain from the cosy confines of his new shop.
The new seating space at the Sandwiched Inn, is light, bright and inviting, centred by a large communal table - one where you are free to take a pew and have a friendly natter with fellow customers, or just sit and enjoy a peaceful cuppa to yourself while watching people potter past the window. James has also recently built an outdoor bench for those who fancy their coffee in the fresh air.
James and Shell's’ vision for a familiar, welcoming place with a passion for local produce and personal service that you don’t get at a big chain is clear to see. The traditional cafe menu is still there but with exciting, locally sourced additions of Emma's Bread from the Boatyard Bakery, Bake Free gluten-free cakes, and fresh Exe Coffee Roasters coffee, expertly made by barista twins Gavin and Ricky, after whom the new cafe area the ‘2 Inns’ has been named. The welcome is warm and James himself is often in the shop to greet his customers. Ricky kindly tolerates my ‘Hi Ricky-no-Gavin-no-Ricky’ struggle to tell him and his brother apart, as well as my high maintenance decaffeinated coffee with oat milk demands (THE BEST decaf coffee I’ve ever had), and the over-excited bambinos leaping over crates of fresh bread and asking him a million questions when he’s trying to deal with a delivery.
When James advertised for new staff for the cafe he received a staggering two hundred applications. In amongst those was Kanako, who has ten years of patisserie chef experience in Japan under her belt, as you do. Kanako’s cakes are sold in the cafe and are the most beautiful, intricate, delicious creations including strawberry tart, sweet potato cake, green tea roll, pumpkin cheesecake and a flourless Tiramisu gateaux made with lots of dark chocolate, cocoa and whipped eggs - her cakes are not too sweet and somehow light as air, and I have an open and unashamed obsession with them.
I recently had a stressful couple of weeks, when life had ramped up to 100mph for a while and I was overwhelmed by what felt like a mountain of important life decisions to make. I found myself gravitating to The Sandwiched Inn where a sit down, a slice of Kanako’s cake and a chat with James and the staff helped to restore a sense of calm in me before I went on my way. Forget the Swedish boat building plans and get yourself down to The Sandwiched Inn pronto, it’s a truly special place.