Honesty Group is a food business who care about their food, where it comes from, what is in it and how it is produced. Founded by Romilla Arber in 2014, the business has since grown and is encouraging people everyday to care more about the food they consume.
Here is Romilla’s story…
I grew up in a household where it was normal to bake bread. My Mum stubbornly refused to succumb to the “life is too short” mantra that was persuading many people to get out of the kitchen in the 1970s and to buy convenience food, white sliced “Mother’s Pride” being one of those. I have for many years been interested in the politics of food, how it is sold to us and the effect that it has on our health, happiness and well-being and of course the environment. Bread is the perfect example of how food culture in Britain started to break down in the 1960s onwards and how its production reflected the drive by big food manufacturers to get us out of our kitchens and to embrace any food item that reduced our effort at cooking. Quick was good. In those early days we trusted that what was being sold to us would do us no harm. I grew up in Basingstoke. Money was tight, but it was always important to my Mum that we were well fed with wholesome, home cooked food.
When I had children it was easy to see the impact that good, home cooked food had on them. From lighting up their senses, bringing something smelling delicious and looking delicious from the oven to the table, to seeing their strong, healthy bodies and minds develop over time. It does take time and effort, but you make that time and effort for your loved ones.
I had always had a dream to open a bakery. Bread has a special place in my heart. It was in 2012 that I started to think about making this dream a reality. We had lived in a rural part of Hampshire since 1997 and it was almost impossible to find good quality bread. The supermarkets had their “in store bakeries” but they just provided the illusion of freshly baked bread, bread that looked and smelled good but that was full of additives, emulsifiers and preservatives. If I wanted good bread then I felt that others must want it as well and that there could therefore be a market for it away from the supermarkets. I also wanted to prove that good food, real food could get to the consumer at a reasonable price and that a business doing this could still have principles and ethics and make a profit at the same time. I spoke to a lot of people in the know, people with commercial real bread baking experience. None of them were very encouraging so I didn’t take the plunge.
In 2014 an unloved old coaching inn came on the market in the village of Inkpen. It had a restaurant, bar, tiny kitchen, 10 guest bedrooms and a converted barn where the owner lived. I saw my chance to refurbish this beautiful old pub and use the old barn space for a bakery and small coffee shop and Honesty was born.
Since 2014, our bakery has relocated twice to accommodate the escalating demand for our diverse range of baked goods. Currently situated in Turnpike, Newbury, we proudly produce an array of delectable offerings, including cakes, pastries, pies, pasties, soups, stews, sandwiches, and salads. In our commitment to quality, we’ve forged a meaningful partnership with Astons, our esteemed bread supplier, who shares our core values.
Alongside the development of the bakery and kitchen at Turnpike and the pubs (The Crown & Garter in Inkpen and The Hartley Arms in Newbury), we now have 11 coffee shops. The first of which opened in 2016. It was a small shop on the high street in the village of Kingsclere near Basingstoke. When the site came up for rent it seemed the perfect place to showcase our bakery range. Most of our shops are on small village high streets, away from the big brands. We sit in the communities in which we serve, adding value and reflecting those communities, not imposing ourselves upon them.
In 2019 we added the wonderful Saddleback FarmShop to our group of businesses. The shop was built from scratch by Clare Whidbourne in a converted piggery and it is now a much loved business in the area, supplying quality local produce, with a cosy tea room and cafe.
In September 2021, we took over the running of another village pub in the village of Donnington in Newbury – The Hartley Arms. We have a seasonal menu there that changes weekly and reflects the best of local produce. A small coffee shop selling our Honesty baked produce can be found nestled in the courtyard at the back of the pub building.
In 2023, we proudly inaugurated two new coffee shops in distinct locales—Tally Ho, Ascot, and Thames Quarter, Reading. Our growth trajectory remains steadfast as we actively seek opportunities to expand into areas where our commitment to real, non-ultra-processed food can make a positive impact and contribute meaningfully to the local communities.
The Honesty Group’s gastropubs, including The Crown and Garter in Inkpen and The Hartley Arms in Donnington Village, offer a delectable fusion of seasonal, locally sourced menus and inviting atmospheres. With a commitment to crafting dishes from scratch using quality ingredients, these gastropubs are culinary havens where the essence of each season is captured in every bite. Comfortable rooms available at both locations provide a cosy extension of their warm hospitality, inviting guests to fully immerse themselves in the culinary and historical charm offered by the Honesty Group’s gastropubs.
Our cafés, sprinkled throughout Hampshire and Berkshire, epitomise the essence of community-centric dining. These charming and distinct spaces are united by their dedication to serving top-quality food and drinks in a welcoming ambiance. Anchored in the values of authenticity and care, each cafe reflects the unique spirit of its locality while embracing the Honesty Group’s commitment to using genuine ingredients and offering friendly service. These dog-friendly havens provide a taste of local flavur and a sense of belonging, making every visit a delightful experience for both locals and travellers alike.
Honesty Cookery School is a haven for creativity nestled in the picturesque Hampshire countryside. With a diverse range of courses, from cooking to crafts, and flower arranging, the school provides an inspiring setting for individuals to explore their passions. Taught by talented tutors, these courses are accessible and affordable, offering a space for both learning and self-expression. The Cookery School’s green oak barn is also available for private events, infusing gatherings with the enchanting atmosphere of the countryside and the joy of hands-on creation.
We love visiting The Base coffee shop after a walk on Greenham Common. Great food and staff and they're dog-friendly!
Mr and Mrs H
The food is superb, service great and Honesty Live performances make it a fun night at The Hartley Arms
We had a wonderful stay at The Crown & Garter. The rooms were luxurious and food very very good. We stayed here because it's so convenient for Highclere Castle.