Malcolm Warne joins the queue at Sammies of Northallerton to enjoy a fast food experience

AS iconic retailing phenomena go, Sam Turner’s in Northallerton is a rather unusual one. A big aircraft hanger-sized shed on the edge of the county town filled with agricultural and horticultural requisites plus much more, it breaks all the conventional rules of how to sell stuff to people. But it works and people in North Yorkshire and further afield just love it, affectionately calling it Sammies.

To illustrate the point, a friend once said to me the day he qualified to have an account at Sam Turner and Sons was a rite of passage as important to him passing his A-levels, getting married or the birth of his first child. He described the thrill of banging two fence posts and bag of six-inch nails down on the counter in the middle of the cavernous store and casually replying “Account” to the customary question “Cash or account?” as easily equal to any other lifetime milestone.

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But one rule of commerce that not even Sam Turner or the three generations of Turners that have run the family business since 1931 could ultimately resist is the profits that can be generated from selling cups of tea and coffee. A cafe duly opened just over ten years ago in a small upstairs corner of the shed.

We sampled a hearty no-nonsense full English breakfast there not long after it opened and it was clear they were on to a good thing. The place was regularly full to overflowing and a few years back they more than doubled the size of the cafe and called it Sammies.

They may have to think again because last Saturday lunchtime it was full to overflowing and the queue was almost to the Barbour jackets in the clothing department.

Joining the queue heading for the cafeteria-style servery, we noticed the signs suggesting that diners secure a table before ordering food which struck us as eminently sensible and the complete opposite of how most cafeterias try to order things – which always condemns those in the queue to anxious moments wondering whether if there isn't a free table they they might have to consider sharing with that scary-looking couple who happen to have seats free on theirs.

So Sylvia bagged one – unfortunately not one of the tables with a bird’s eye view of the cornucopia of chainsaws, mousetraps, feed troughs and chicken wire below – and I stayed in the queue, which turned out to be moving pretty rapidly. The menu featured sandwiches, toasties, paninis, salads, jacket potatoes and a list of specials which seemed to disappear before our eyes as fast as the queue moved. Clearly one o’clock counts as a late lunch in Sammies.

So the chicken and leek pie (Sylvia’s initial choice) was devoured and wiped from the specials chalkboard as I queued. She mouthed her alternative choice – a beef wrap (£6.50) – across the room. Thankfully, my lip-reading skills were up to it and I didn’t order a cheese jacket. Everything is cooked to order so having paid I took our drinks – a pot of tea (£1.75) and a soft drink (£1.85) – and the slice of bakewell tart (£2) I’d rather fancied the look of to the table and waited for the hot food to arrive. Which it did in short order.

Sylvia’s beef wrap was a huge, soft fudgy-textured tortilla filled with strips of braised beef in gravy with lots of chunky grilled peppers and onions. A sort-of Tex Mex meets country show hog roast. It came with some homemade coleslaw, some very good butch chips (thick and crisp to the point of hardness) and one of those afterthought salad garnishes served in places where people by and large don’t eat the green stuff.

I know, you are wondering what I had ordered, apart from the Bakewell (moist, buttery pastry – ideally could have done with some custard). What can I say about sausage, chips and beans (£5 – adult portion as I had to make clear when ordering) when I’ve already told you about the chips and baked beans from a tin are, well, baked beans from a tin? Not a lot, but I can say the two pork sausages were very good, sliced in half we imagined to enable quick cooking.

Obviously, it’s difficult to rate service in a self-service environment, but this week’s rating is based on the radiant smile of the lady who took the order – and knocked 50p off the slice of Bakewell because she thought it looked a little small – and the swiftness of the hot food’s arrival at a time when the cafe was very, very busy.

The bill was £17.10.