Tebay Services and the road less travelled

Posted on by Guy Cookson

When thinking of motorway service stations phrases such as “farm shops”, “locally sourced produce”, and “outstanding views” do not immediately spring to mind.

Instead you are more likely to imagine grotty facilities, hyperactive gambling machines, and overpriced, underwhelming, fast food.

Slotting an M&S Simply Food next to WHSmith, or plonking a Costa Drive-Thru in the car park, is not enough to make a service station a place anyone would want to visit, except when they absolutely have to.

But there has long been an exception to this miserable rule of thumb.

In 1972, not long after the M6 had carved a path through their Cumbrian farmland, John and Barbara Dunning decided to open Tebay Services.

“I knew that living in this part of the world we could only survive if we diversified the farm’s activities,” John Dunning recently explained.

And right from the start they did things differently by shunning franchises and instead opening a small cafe to serve home cooked, locally sourced food.

Today Tebay offers a farm shop selling food from more than 70 producers within a 30 mile radius, an onsite butchers featuring meat from the family farm, and a kitchen serving homemade dishes.

“We always think of ourselves as a food business that happens to be on the motorway,” says Sarah Dunning, daughter of the founders, and now chair and co-owner.

All of this has made Tebay a destination in its own right.

“There is an assumption with motorway services that people are happy with average,” explains head buyer Alex Evans, who previously worked for Harrods. “You don’t leave your sensibilities behind just because you’re travelling on the motorway and you are tired and exhausted. We want people to have a little bit of joy.”

The family business, known as Westmorland Family, now operates a service station in Scotland, and another in Gloucestershire, alongside the Rheged Centre in Penrith. All follow a similar ethos.

“Quality local food was at the core of John Dunning’s vision when we opened Tebay Services,” the company states. “Back then it was visionary. Today, we’re part of a local food revolution.”


A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column by Guy Cookson on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette, Lancashire Post and other titles. See our brand, web design and marketing recent projects.

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