COOK, the upmarket frozen ready-meal company founded in Farnham in 1997, has bid farewell to its first ever shop in Downing Street and embraced a new chapter in East Street.

The move was celebrated with a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday at its new larger premises in the former Seven Stars pub, with a brass band adding a festive touch to the occasion.

Founder Ed Perry reminisced during the opening ceremony, sharing tales of humble beginnings and the initial scepticism he faced. He and others thought he was a “lunatic” at the start, he said, but he pushed on and recalled receiving a £6,000 loan from his parents to kick-start the company in 1997.

Drawing parallels to a thriving oak tree, he credited the kindness of Farnham residents and his “incredibly supportive” family for nurturing the acorn planted 26 years ago.

Despite initial doubts, COOK’s concept of producing upmarket food in “well to do” areas flourished, evolving from a small shop in Farnham to a nationwide phenomenon with 97 branches and counting.

It began with head chef Dale Penfold, now retired but present at the relocation, cooking all the meals himself in Kent. But Ed’s vision for quality-driven, upmarket food has thrived, with approximately 1,700 employees now on its payroll across four specialised kitchens. 

The company, still privately owned, has weathered numerous challenges to maintain its commitment to excellence.

The move to Castle Street wasn’t a hasty decision. Emotional ties to the Downing Street property delayed the relocation, but the new premises on Castle Street now stand as a testament to COOK’s growth, gratitude, and community support.

During the opening, a plaque was erected on the new shop’s wall, thanking Farnham for being the birthplace of COOK. 

The inscription shares the story of the company’s humble beginnings and expresses heartfelt gratitude to the town for its unwavering support.

Damian, a present day COOK chef, attested to the company’s enduring principles of quality and care, saying it was like a family. He added that during his time with COOK he had seen the range of the dishes increase enormously, his favourite being the smoked haddock gratin. But the quality and principle of preparing the food hadn’t changed. 

Matthew Bourne, COOK retail director, said staff get-togethers were very special occasions. There is a special bond between them, evidenced by the hugs given at the opening ceremony when other members of management and staff arrived.

So, what next? Ed said COOK will “keep growing, expanding the range, remaining quality driven” – and they are “definitely not selling the business!”

Find COOK at 88 East Street, Farnham.