The landlady of a well-loved vegetarian pub-restaurant on the A140 Norwich to London road has launched a new shop.

Jan Wise - who owns the grade 2 listed Walnut Tree pub at Thwaite, south of Eye - wanted to build on the huge success of the chilled and frozen meals she produced for customers during lockdown.

She has invested tens of thousands of pounds in a new building next to the pub to sell foods - including her own home-made frozen ready meals, pizzas, plant-based dishes - and giftware. It also stocks ice cream and chocolates.

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Ms Wise bought the pub - which has a pub garden and a large grass field to the rear - in 2016 believing it had "massive potential". At the time, it had been closed for about 18 months and was called the Buck's Head. 

She renovated the inside and a beer garden to the rear, adding a pergola to the beer garden during the pandemic. She grows produce on site and is in the process of building a new greenhouse to bring on plants and grow more.

She previously ran another popular vegetarian pub-restaurant - the Veggie Red Lion at Great Bricett near Needham Market - for about nine years on a lease basis.

"I like to think of it as a pub and a restaurant," she says of her business at Eye. "The location is brilliant because of the passing traffic but obviously I wanted a building I was happy to have and I wanted something pretty."

It also has a huge car park and a lot of land at the back, she adds.

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"I didn't want to run a place I didn't fall in love with really. I think it's really pretty and it looks lovely from the road but it also looks lovely from the inside."

The new shop had a soft opening at the end of April. "The shop really came out of lockdown. I started to do veg boxes," explains Jan.

"We already do a range of ready meals and I expanded the range. I didn't do a lot of takeaways because it was just me so I did frozen and chilled things.

"There was a lot of support and a lot of people asked me if I would continue after lockdown because they liked coming locally to get their produce so that was where the idea was born.

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"Obviously it's been the hardest three years for running a pub ever - so anything you can do to add to your offer has to be a good idea really."

Energy prices are "crazy" and she is now paying three times what she was before the energy crisis, she says.

She is feeling "very positive" about the latest addition to the business, she says. "It was a soft launch because I wanted to be able to make sure everything worked before I announced it to the world."

Jan, who is originally from Bury St Edmunds, is a trained chef who has worked in the catering trade for many years. As a young women she worked in a hotel and was inspired by its innovative chef to study catering at Great Yarmouth.

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She became a vegetarian in her 20s but continued to prepare and cook meat dishes until she was in charge of her own business. Cooking vegetarian dishes meant she had to be more innovative, she says.

"The whole vegetarian thing is hugely challenging because there isn't any comparison really. There isn't something you can put in the frying pan or under the grill and slap on the plate."

Many of her customers are meat eaters but "feel fairly safe to come", she says. Vegetarianism is no longer a "scary word", and she has felt welcomed by the local community.

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"I think locally people were pleased to have someone they knew of who was going to give this place another chance really," she says. "It has been open and closed. There was a lot of support from the local parish council and so on which is nice."

The pandemic has had a huge effect on hospitality businesses - including her own. Even now, she has to cope with table reservation cancellations due to Covid.

"I'm lucky enough that I didn't have any rent to pay because I had bought the place. If I hadn't I don't know what would have happened."

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