The Pit Stop Chippenham

In a recent survey by RAC Business, we found that many people who drive for a living struggle to find healthy eating options among the hundreds of truck stops and services stations that pepper the UK’s road network. In fact 41% of business with HGV fleets said this was a particular problem for their lorry drivers.

However, over recent years there has been a growing awareness of the need to keep drivers properly fuelled up as the health problems associated with a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, such as obesity, diabetes type 2 and certain sleep disorders, have been on the rise.

There is now a select number of service stations and truck stops that have embraced the idea of serving good wholesome produce, as an alternative to highly processed and fried food, and as a result they have built nationwide reputations such as Gloucester Services on M5 in the West Country and Tebay on the M6 in Cumbria.

So following the attention in the national media our survey on healthy eating attracted, we decided to go and see for ourselves what alternatives there are for the army of company car, van and lorry drivers who take to the road every day to keep the wheels of the UK economy turning.

That is how we found ourselves just off junction 17 of the M4 near Chippenham, Wiltshire, drinking probably the best coffee I’ve ever tasted at a services, or most high street coffee shop chains come to that.

“Our approach is simple, we know that when truckers stop here there are tired, hungry and in need of a wash, so we make sure we create a home-from-home environment”, says Neal Walford, general manager at the Chippenham Pit Stop filling station and services.

The site, which is still owned by the Silvey family, has been serving truckers and commercial drivers since 1988. But in 2014 the independent business took the decision to transform its offering to provide locally-sourced food in the restaurant, which is all oven cooked and nothing fried.

We drink our fresh ground coffee and wait for our breakfast to arrive in the spacious Pit Stop restaurant/café, with its dark heavy wood tables and chairs and exposed brickwork decor that mean it could just as easily be placed on a busy high street, rather than just two minutes from a motorway, somewhere near Swindon.  

Neal explains how the truck stop has transformed itself over the past two years:

“Our emphasis is on quality produce and providing drivers with what they want, in contrast to what they might get in a lot of fast food chains in a typical service station.

“Drivers spend many hours on the road, away from their homes and families, so when they come here they want something good to eat, they want a hot shower and somewhere they can park to have a good night’s sleep.

“At the same time we’re all very aware of the kind of health issues that are affecting a lot of people, drivers included, and we wanted to do something about that. So we still offer a cooked breakfast for instance, but we use local quality providers for the sausage and bacon, the providence of the produce is really important to us.  And we cook everything in fan ovens so nothing’s fried, apart from using a little oil on the griddle for the eggs.

“We’ve designed a menu which we feel offers a lot of choice so you can have the traditional breakfast if you choose, or you could have freshly made porridge if you prefer.”

At Chippenham Pit Stop they really are serious about health, with a different campaign each month covering issues such as diabetes, heart disease, skin cancer and many more. September is blood pressure awareness, said Neal, who also explained they are fundraising for a defibrillator to be kept onsite, just in case the worst should happen.

As well as the emphasis on healthier eating in the café with a menu that boasts a range of home-cooked style options, the shop next door also sells fresh fruit and veg which many truckers take with them when they leave, to keep them going on the road.

The management has even gone to the lengths of working out walking routes through the countryside that surrounds the site, so that customers can stretch their legs properly after a hearty breakfast or dinner, or they can use the outdoor gym that has been installed onsite.

It also seems the change has been as good for the business as it has for its customers as Neal says sales have increased year-on-year by 20% in the restaurant and 120% in the shop - the ultimate proof in the pudding, homemade naturally. In addition the shop and restaurant have found new customers from the local village of Draycott Cerne who now use it alongside the truckers and van drivers.

And the customers we spoke to in-between mouthfuls of tea and toast, were certainly happy to make it a regular stop off point.

Ieuan Evans drives 44t HGVs, covering hundreds of miles a week.

He said:

Coming here makes a nice change because being able to have fresh food is very important to me. It seems like at a lot of service stations you can only get expensive fast food, which isn’t what you want every day.”

Van driver Martin Gain adds:

“I always stop here when I come past because you have such a good choice. I like the equivalent of a Sunday roast which is what you get here, good wholesome food. It’s important when you’re on the road all the time.”

Choice is clearly important for Neal and the owners of the Chippenham Pit Stop and it seems that since its move to offer an alternative to the processed fast food synonymous with so many truck stops, more truckers have been choosing to take their breaks here and enjoy a slice of home-from-home. To find out more go to: http://www.chippenhampitstop.com/home

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