Robertson’s organic cafe in the Devonshire town of Tavistock was packed at lunchtime yesterday, with customers enjoying Thai lentil soup and savoury tarts. Across the river, a rather more meagre gathering were ordering Big Macs, fries and sweet milkshakes with greater urgency than normal.
Burger and pizza joints continue to spring up in towns and cities across Britain but in one corner of west Devon the fast food giant McDonald’s is beating a strategic retreat in face of competition from an unexpected source – champions of fresh, locally produced food. Many residents of the market town of Tavistock were bitterly opposed to the opening of McDonald’s. But while they could not stop it, market forces have done the job for them, with the burger giant conceding yesterday that the site on the main road to Plymouth was “no longer suitable”.
Dick Spackman, secretary of the Tavistock Business Association, led the celebrations. “I was against it coming here in the first place,” he said. “It was never the right type of outlet for Tavistock. Over the past few years, we have built a reputation for the quality of our food.”
John Taylor, Tavistock Forward and EatWise chairman, said: “I think it’s tremendous. It just goes to show that the food is so good here we have seen them off. They don’t pull out of many places but because of the quality of our local food they have not been able to compete.”
Nestling beneath Dartmoor, Tavistock has a tradition of good eating. Last year its pannier market celebrated its 900th year and it is the reigning “best food town” in the south-west. Families and businesses come from miles around to buy fish, meat and vegetables at the covered market.
The high street is dotted with independent cafes and food shops, among them NH Creber Ltd – cheesmongerers and pepperers (est 1881) – which stocks a bewildering range of jams and pickles as well as cheese and pepper. Robert Creber said: “I am delighted. I don’t think McDonald’s is the image we are trying to portray.”
However, McDonald’s bridled at the suggestion that it was being driven out by the foodies. A spokesman said: “We have 1,250 restaurants across the United Kingdom and it is essential we continue to have the right restaurants in the right places to ensure we stay relevant and convenient for our customers.”
Of course, not all are happy at the closure, not least the 27 staff who lose their jobs. And some will miss their fast food. Jim Knight, a trucker, said: “I’m not a feta cheese and olives man. Give me a burger any day.”
Story by Steven Morris for The Guardian
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