Ruth Richards says she’s an open book.

Her kitchen is open too, and like it she has nothing to hide.

Ruth, who has operated Tea By The Lock, at the Naburn Banqueting Hall for the past two years, was ‘mortified’ by her recent food hygiene inspection.

She received a one-star rating, meaning ‘major improvement necessary.’

But as she stresses, it was not about cleanliness and hygiene, but more the ‘technicalities’ as she showed a list of things that must be done regularly, with the boxes ticked off to show you have done them.

York Press: One star means 'Major Improvement Necessary'One star means 'Major Improvement Necessary' (Image: Staff)

This is borne out by the Food Standards Agency reporting the venue as “generally satisfactory” for hygienic food handling” and “generally satisfactory” for the cleanliness and condition of the facilities and the building.”


However, for food safety management, “major improvement” was necessary.

Situated down a quiet country road, next to the scenic Naburn Lock, Tea By the Lock has gained a solid following of customers who love Ruth’s vegan cooking, especially the cakes and scones.

Tripadvisor rates the business 4.5 stars, with 20 of 30 reviews calling it excellent, four very good, two average and four poor. Nobody said it was terrible.

Recent comments include “a coffee time treasure,” one called the cafe “an eye opener for vegan food”, with another adding “inspired baking and tasty food/ good coffee.”

However, when City of York inspectors called at the Grade 2-listed 200 year-old building on June 23, they found Ruth wasn’t there. Ruth is "never absent" and it was just "sod's law" she was at her daughter’s graduation, she says.

York Press: The idyllic setting of Tea by the Lock

In the report, inspectors say they found the staff present had an “inadequate” level of food hygiene awareness. They lacked awareness of some sections of the food safety manual, a food mixer was ‘dirty’ and there was a stain on the fridge.

They called for a concrete floor of the storeroom to be replaced, as it cannot be easily cleaned. Customers should also receive better information about food allergies.

Ruth said her markdown - as the report admitted - was not about food hygiene, which is what upsets people.

“Everybody can see I’m an open kitchen. They see me making the cakes. They can see me making the food. There’s nothing behind the scenes,” she said.

The fridge has stains, which cannot be removed, but it is not dirty and still works, she said.

“I had all the paperwork. I wasn’t here to answer the questions. I feel a lot is on the technicalities.”

Ruth works 17 hours a day, battling rising overheads and other business struggles.

“I’m entirely plant-based food. There’s no meat, no dairy, nothing to cross-contaminate.”

She added: “This place is pretty special. All our customers are lovely. We have our regulars. They love the food. I like to think I am putting vegan food on the map.”