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South Street Pantry on the market: A new beginning with baby for owner Danielle Thomas





A healthy baby is a heartfelt wish for every mum-to-be. But for one of Bishop’s Stortford’s best-loved businesswomen, her hope is a triumph over adversity.

Danielle Thomas, the owner of South Street Pantry, carries the gene for Huntington’s disease – a rare, inherited condition that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain – but the son or daughter she and husband Gareth are getting ready to welcome in December is clear.

As they approach the halfway mark in her pregnancy, with a 20-week scan next week, Danielle has decided the time is right to put her family first and sell her award-winning café and tearoom on South Street.

Owner Danielle Thomas outside South Street Pantry. Pic: Vikki Lince (57762157)
Owner Danielle Thomas outside South Street Pantry. Pic: Vikki Lince (57762157)

She has been at the helm for the last nine years and has 22 members of staff, including eight full-time employees. Her aim is to safeguard their future and sell the business as a going concern.

The 34-year-old said: “It’s been a hard decision. It’s taken me over a year to make and I’ve been toing and froing. I love the business and I love my staff, but I had to make a decision for the baby and my future.”

Danielle and Gareth, who next week celebrate their third wedding anniversary, conceived their child using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Last year, doctors at Guy’s Hospital in London tested cells from embryos created by IVF for Huntington’s disease.

Danielle with staff, from left, Glenn Prior, Finley Eames and Madeline Baker. Pic: Vikki Lince (57731058)
Danielle with staff, from left, Glenn Prior, Finley Eames and Madeline Baker. Pic: Vikki Lince (57731058)

Danielle was so keen to get South Street Pantry back up and running after the Covid-19 pandemic that she delayed the implantation procedure until this year – and they were thrilled when the first attempt resulted in a much-wanted pregnancy.

Her mum, Lisa Smart, was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease in 2002 when Danielle was a 14-year-old Herts and Essex High School student and her sister Sophie was just 12.

It was a bolt from the blue – Lisa’s own mother died when she was four and her grandmother committed suicide.

The diagnosis posed a huge question for both girls and very different answers. Sophie – who lives in Takeley with daughters Penelope, 5, and one-year-old Phoebe – has never wanted to find out if she too carries the Huntington’s gene, but Danielle needed to know.

Cake queen: South Street Pantry owner Danielle Thomas is selling her business after nine years. Pic: Vikki Lince (57762181)
Cake queen: South Street Pantry owner Danielle Thomas is selling her business after nine years. Pic: Vikki Lince (57762181)

Her testing journey was filmed by the BBC and, since it was first broadcast in 2020, it has been viewed millions of times.

Deciding to go ahead put huge pressure not just on Danielle but on Gareth too. She had a 50% chance of being clear, but confirmation that she was “HD positive” has given her some closure.

“I think about it all much less now,” she said.

Danielle with Finley Eames, Glenn Prior and Madeline Baker. Pic: Vikki Lince (57762164)
Danielle with Finley Eames, Glenn Prior and Madeline Baker. Pic: Vikki Lince (57762164)

Caring for her mum, now 58, with Sophie and their dad George means Danielle knows exactly what the future could hold for her, but she remains optimistic about new treatments and ultimately hopes for a cure.

She said: “I’m a firm believer that science can change so quickly.”

That is why fundraising will continue to play a huge part in her life. The family has raised more than £120,000 to support people with Huntington’s and fund research.

Last month a masquerade ball at Manor of Groves in High Wych added £16,340 to be shared between University College London and Cambridge Brain Repair Centre.



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