Rachel Gunderson - Owner of The Honey Pot café, Penzance


What do you consider your greatest achievement?

There are 3 sorry!

Making a perfect tiny human all by myself (mostly by myself!)

Buying and running a sustainable small business in the town I love

Getting a 1st in my degree

What motivates you to do what you do?

Giving Rosa a safe and secure upbringing and making sure we and the people around us are happy and fulfilled.

What do you owe your mother?

Independent thought, not being afraid to form opinions and be passionate about them, to speak my mind, to acknowledge when I’m wrong, to be kind, forgiving and patient towards others,

Which women inspire you and why?

My Aunty Hester who has worked for Amnesty International and who now performs Humanist funerals and is a clever, thoughtful and strong feminist who is not afraid to have an educated discussion with anyone.

 My Great Aunty Mary who worked for the national children’s home and although she never married or had children, she fostered and brought up hundreds of children who needed a home.

Greta Thunberg of course – because she is just so right about it all.

My friend Lydia, who is single and in her fifties and just does everything right. She is the best type of Christian I know – she still swears and drinks and loves life with all the right morals. She has absolutely taken control of her happiness and is open and honest in every way she can be.

My employee and friend Tamar. A single mum of two with her head totally screwed on and the calmest, most controlled attitude towards parenting of anyone I know. She always makes me feel safe.

What are you reading?

I mainly read cook books and food articles. In terms of novels or actual books, I read a paragraph of this or a page or two of that sometimes. I’m just not a very good reader and really struggle to get information into my head from the page. I should make more effort and put time aside for books, or even audio books, I know, but somehow I haven’t managed to do that yet. Definitely a goal of mine.

What gender barriers have you had to hurdle?

I think running a business as a young, single female has definitely had some challenges that wouldn’t have been so obvious if I were a man. I’ve definitely felt at times that I’ve not been taken seriously, especially by male office-type professionals and especially after falling pregnant. I was told by my male accountant when I’d gone to him for some advice after finding out I was pregnant that I should ‘probably just throw the towel in now’ and treated with zero understanding or compassion, as though it was my fault and a stupid thing to have done. It gave me all the fire and determination to make it work, but could’ve been a very different story if I’d been a different person.

I had a male customer who was harassing female staff – and I did not feel I could have the conversation with him as I was also a woman and felt threatened, so ended up having to get the police involved. The PCSO who dealt with him was actually a woman, and she did a fantastic job at handling it.

Having to work and find childcare as a single mother and sole trader in the first 2 years of running a business. This is definitely a challenge and something I would not ever have to face as a man. Dealing with post-natal depression and the physical consequences of a caesarean birth resulting in taking extra time off work and the financial backlash from this.

How can the world be made a better place for women?

First things first, the world needs to actually BE A PLACE. So before we can do anything else we need to tackle the climate emergency with every ounce of our energy (I realise this includes following a vegan diet, and I am just about to state multiple eatings of cheese in my perfect day scenario…Forgive me).

But that aside - better services for mental health and menstruation education for girls and boys alike. Better understanding surrounding childbirth and childcare options. More funding available for childcare. Better contraception options, especially for men to take. Better education from birth for all children with norms of the patriarchy re-thought.

Describe your perfect day?

Camping on St Agnes, in the Isles of Scilly with my baby Rosa and my parents, brother, and nephew Oscar. Waking up in a tent next to the sea, swimming in the sea before breakfast, yoga stretches on the beach, delicious breakfast of probably some local eggs baked in last night’s leftover tomato and veg pasta sauce with some sumac and chili and some bread to dunk in – a stroll around the island and a picnic of Cornish blue cheese, oat cakes, chutney, apples and cherry tomatoes somewhere in the shade with a lovely view – a nap with Rosa on the beach, head in shade, body in sun, another big swim in the sea – probably around to the pub – a couple (few) pints of a nice IPA or pilsner and some chilli peanuts or crisps in the sun – back to the tent for a leisurely evening cooking with friends – all watching over and playing with Rosa - making a big veg curry with all the condiments or a Middle Eastern stew and nutty bulgarwheat tabbouleh, or some fresh courgette, lemon and mint linguine with some parmesan and garlic oil or some big veg and herb packed salads and just-dug new potatoes with some simple grilled freshly caught mackerel or crab and some fresh bread and a good garlicy mayonnaise – eating with friends whilst the sun goes down, many bottles of wine and good conversation into the night and a long, deep sleep in bed with Rosa in the fresh air of a tent. BLISS.

We've noticed there really aren't many (if any) statues of women around Cornwall - who would you see remembered?

All the wives of miners and fishermen and farmers who did all the real work behind the scenes and never get a mention?? I’m not sure really, don’t think I know of any notable Cornish women of history – maybe Mary Kellynack – but not really sure what she did other than walk to London…That’s not very good is it. I blame the patriarchy and our education system!! 

Laura Knight – my favourite artist of the Newlyn School.

Give us a tip?

Life is short. Do what makes you happy in the long-term. If something isn’t making you happy – don’t do it anymore! Be patient, forgive others and yourself. Community is everything – look out for others as you would yourself.

About Rachel: Born at Treliske in 1991, I grew up in Gulval with good, Methodist, liberal minded, environmentally conscious parents and brother two years my senior. I went to Gulval primary school – then a tiny village community primary school - that was wonderful. I didn’t enjoy secondary school at Mounts Bay or college at Truro at all and was ill for much of it. I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (M.E.) when I was 11 and had a year off school – unable to even move from lying in bed for much of that time and struggling as much with the mental health side of the illness as the physical that it is most commonly associated with. This definitely shaped most of my teenage years and I think I was probably spoilt by my parents as a result of it, given lifts to and from any extra-curricular or social activity I wanted to be a part of. The physical exhaustion is something that has always affected me since and it comes and goes – but it has mainly been mental health that I’ve struggled with. I’m absolutely passionate about normalising mental health issues and am proud to say that I take a dose of anti-depressants daily that I believe keeps me alive in the same way that daily injections of insulin keep a diabetic alive. I do not believe that attitudes towards the medication of patients suffering from mental health difficulties should be any different to that of patients with physical health issues.

After learning the piano and clarinet and enjoying my time as a member of Cornwall Youth Orchestra immensely, I studied music at Cardiff University, and again struggled with bouts of poor mental health, mainly in getting to grips with the social side of life as a young person away from home, but enjoyed the research and the course immensely and graduated with a first class honours degree and a scholarship for the best public solo recital (a clarinet recital of 20th century French music) which to this day I am still in disbelief about! Maybe this was my proudest moment…Certainly the most unexpected!

I spent 7 summer seasons working on St Agnes in the Isles of Scilly, in various jobs – first in the tiny dairy at Troytown Farm - pasturising milk, making clotted cream, butter and ice cream from their 6 cows, then a few shifts at The Turks Head pub, then in Coastguards Café and High Tide seafood restaurant. Those were the best summers. We lived in tents in a staff field from April to October some years, living in a slightly squalid student community, cooking together on camp stoves and sitting around furniture we’d botched together with bits of wooden palette and rusting nails, swimming, drinking, talking, working. It was the best introduction into work and independent life you could imagine as a teenager, and those first hospitality jobs definitely opened up my passions for the industry.

I ‘did my time’ in London for a few months, working in two cafés and living with my cosmopolitan and open minded aunt and uncle, which was a great experience and I loved living in multicultural Lewisham – a world away from rural Cornwall and Scilly. 

When I came back to Penzance, after having worked for Kath Hawkins, previous owner and founder of The Honey Pot as we know and love it, for a couple of years on and off in between the Scilly and London escapades, I came into some inheritance from my grandparents who had recently passed away at the ripe ages of 94 and 96. Kath had expressed some interest in selling the business, so it just made sense for me to take it on, with my experience, a bit of an understanding of how the business worked and huge love of food. I also love Penzance so much and wanted to be able to keep a small business alive in the town and to be able to provide good jobs for local people. So I went about approaching banks with a business plan that I had had no idea how to write, on my own, at the age of 25 – and by some miracle managed to get myself a mortgage! It took a couple of years to get the plans completed and sale finalised and move in, and in the interim I worked full time at the café and part time at The Old Coastguard in Mousehole to save as much money as possible to put towards it.

After a baptism of fire taking over the café at the start of the hectic summer season and continuing to be busy through the Autumn and over Christmas, I found out I was pregnant, and decided to have the baby. It wasn’t at all an easy decision as I knew I had a lot on my plate anyway without adding being a first time single mum into the equation - but I decided I wanted this baby – and that whatever happened with the café, she was my priority now. The pregnancy was great for me, and I had never been so well physically or mentally – working 70+ hour weeks up until the week before she was born. After a difficult birth and a week in hospital, I was back to work after 6 weeks over the busy Christmas period to put on evening events and work in the kitchen. This was probably more than I should’ve done, and a postponed bout of anaemia led to a period of post-natal depression – something that was definitely not unlikely for me given my history. I’ve been fortunate enough to have Tazzy – the most amazing café manager – as well as lots of help from my family and my best friend, Rosa’s ‘auntie Jessie’ who lives with us – and a network of generous friends and loyal staff that have enabled things to run as smoothly as possible thus far.

Me and Rosa are 9 months in now and still getting to grips with our new life together, but managing to get up each day, work in the café more and more, and getting back the confidence and energy I had before becoming a mum.

I’m very aware of the privilege I’ve had in life and understand that a lot of what I’ve been able to achieve has been thanks to a supportive and secure upbringing – both emotionally and financially. Amongst my goals in life are to help others to overcome challenges they may have faced – I want to help others to be happy, healthy and to be empowered to reach for their goals, whatever background they may have come from. I’d love in particular to be an ambassador for educating young people - about food, cooking and eating healthily, sustainably and affordably – about the importance of understanding politics and voting – about mental health issues, how to recognise signs in yourself and those around you -  about discrimination women still face in everyday life – about period awareness – positive birth and parenting - about the ‘real world’ and what happens when you become an adult – how to pay bills – how to register to vote – what to do when your electric metre runs out - how to dispose responsibly of your waste– how to use social media as a positive platform and to look out for one another online…All that essential stuff they don’t teach you in school. I’m often heard saying that I’d like to be the next Jamie Oliver – but not just with food – with all of it. All the important stuff. But for now I’m very content running my little café in Penzance with my little family - my baby Rosa, my black and white cat Pepper and my best friend Jess.