CAFES, tearooms and coffee shops – whichever name you prefer to give them – are all the rage, particularly those which source local produce and incorporate a charming backstory.

Nobody can deny how enjoyable it is to sit down and indulge in a nice lunch, followed by coffee and cake, and there is nothing better than knowing that what you are eating has been produced locally.

That is the ethos of the Kerr family, who own and run The Coo Shed, based at South Corton Farm, Alloway, in Ayrshire.

A project which started off as a dairy farm with a plant nursery attached, has blossomed, and The Coo Shed is now one of Ayrshire’s most popular eateries.

Its design is just one of the factors that make it such an appealing place to go to eat – the coffee shop was built within a shed, which was constructed by WM Yuille Ltd, a building contractor based in Girvan. The building has numerous nods to farming all around it, with milking cups being used as lampshades, and ornamental cows being dotted around the room – and even the toilets.

Husband and wife, Willie and Alison, their son, Dave (19), and daughter, Amber (16), opened The Coo Shed in April 2017, and it has since grown from strength to strength.

However, the coffee shop didn’t just land there by accident, and many years of hard work took place before its doors could be opened.

South Corton is a dairy farm, which sits on 260 acres, and supplies milk to Yew Tree, on a fixed rate contract.

It currently has 220 Holstein cows, but Willie hopes to increase that to 250 by the end of the year, in order to keep up with demand – which we will go into later.

Willie keeps all of his youngstock cattle, and rears his own replacements, while he also sells bull calves to Buteler for rosé veal, which he started because cow numbers were getting too high.

They also rent a further 250 acres, of which 80 acres is used for growing barley; 250 acres for first-cut silage; and 200 acres for second-cut silage – which is all harvested by the family, along with the help of Willie’s brother, James.

So, how did the Kerrs manage to do all of that, as well as open a plant nursery and coffee shop?

“I worked at the Bank of Scotland as a relationship manager for 15 years, and then I started to get fed up of doing that.

“I had my two kids by then, and I wanted to spend more time with them, and so I left my job and started a two-year course at Auchencruive College, Ayr, studying horticulture,” explained Alison.

The course, to begin with, was more about giving Alison something to do, rather than a potential new career, but eventually she put up two polytunnels at the farm, and set up a trust box, meaning people could pop in and pick up some plants whenever they wanted.

Alison then started handing out fliers, locally, in order to further market the business.

“Things went really well that first year, and that’s when we realised there was a potential market there for a full-scale plant nursery business,” Willie explained.

At that point, the horticulture course at Auchencruive was being discontinued, and so they supplied eight polytunnels to South Corton, and, the college, Alison explained, “were a great help to me, and very supportive.”

That takes the business up to 2004, by which point the idea of opening a coffee shop was there, and, for the business, it would eventually become the next natural step.

With the nursery being open from April to June, the plant business gradually increased in size each year, particularly due to return customers.

Eventually, after much consideration, the Kerrs decided they would open a coffee shop – but that idea was certainly pushed by one connoisseur of the business.

Alison said: “Moreen Baird is a great friend of mine, and she already has her own tea room, Langholm, which is situated at Symington, in Ayrshire.

“We honestly couldn’t have done it without her, because her knowledge of the business is fantastic, and she really helped to persuade us that the coffee shop would be a success.”

It was always the intention that the coffee shop would use as much local produce as possible, and the Kerrs have ensured that is the case.

In all, they use; Country Fresh Meats, Tarbolton, for red meat; Chalmerston Farm, Stair, for eggs; Campbeltown cheese; Veroni’s, Ayr, for fish; Ayrshire’s Electric Bakery, for baking supplies; Ayrshire’s Grant’s, for fresh fruit and vegetables; Fresh Perth Produce, also for fresh fruit and vegetables, including Blairgowrie strawberries; Bryson’s Tomatoes, Newmilns; and Robertson’s Butcher, Saltcoats, for Scottish pork.

“I admit that the locally-sourced products are a wee bit more expensive, and they shouldn’t be, because more people should be purchasing them, but they are and I would rather that, because then you get that quality that we were always looking for.

“I also like to support the local businesses as much as I can,” explained Alison.

“We also can’t deny how hard those local businesses work,” explained Willie.

“The fruit and vegetable guys are often in with their deliveries before we are even up for milking in the morning.”

Milk has also been supplied by Mossgiel Milk, Mauchline, which produces non-homogenised milk.

“With us being a dairy, our next goal was to use our own milk on the premises, and Bryce Cunningham, who owns Mossgiel Milk, was struggling to produce enough milk for his supply chain, and so he actually asked us if he could take some of our milk to pasteurise, which we were more than happy for him to do.”

Milk was then presented in old-fashioned glass bottles, and on the label, it was noted that the milk came from South Corton’s own cows – something the family were very proud of.

After using their own milk for some time in all of their products, including coffees, cooking and baking, the family decided it was time to invest in another project – a milk vending machine.

To find out more about milk vending machines, the family travelled up to Angus and William Willis’ Forest Farm Organic, Aberdeen, who were pasteurising their own milk and then selling it through a vending machine, and that’s what pushed Willie and Alison to invest once again.

“We looked for quite a while, and eventually found a vending machine in the Czech Republic, called MilkBot, and a guy travelled in a van and drove all the way here to deliver it to us.

“We also got Scott Baird, one of Dairy Flow at Kilmaurs’ salesman to come along and watch the installation, so that we had somebody local who could be there if there were any technical issues with the machine, and he was a great supporter of us introducing it to the business,” Alison said.

South Corton’s milk butter fat content ranges from 3.8% to 4.6%, depending on the time of year, and the vending machine has been very successful, due to more and more people looking to purchase the old-fashioned type of milke.

At present, Mossgiel Milk still does the Kerr’s pasteurisation, but they hope to eventually do it themselves, so that everything is kept as local as possible.

A deposit of £2 is taken for the traditional bottle, and the milk costs £1.50 per litre to buy, a price that many milk producers would sell their soul for.

With cows standing in the field to the right of the coffee shop as you drive in, reminding everyone how important locally sourcing is to the family, it is no wonder that the Kerrs have made such a great success of a fantastic expansion project.