In this blog Stuart explores the question of setting up a new business…when the question of ‘how’ is posed by friends
Friends of mine who own a large farm in the country telephoned to say that they were coming up to town and wondered whether I could spare a day to talk through their latest business idea.
Before I had gone too far down the, ‘I don’t really know anything about farming route’, I was interrupted and passed over to ‘Mrs. Farmer’, Kate. Kate is a real go-getter – she already does a wonderful B&B, co-owns an antique shop and recently was engaged by other friends to do the interior design of their new house! She began by telling me that the deconsecrated church on their land had recently been broken into, the original pulpit, pews and windows had been smashed leading them to conclude that they couldn’t leave it empty any longer. They are not able to sell it because it’s part of the estate and their son’s and future generations’ inheritance. They don’t really want to convert it into anything else, what they want to do is to find a way of using it broadly as it is but in a way that ensures it breaks even financially.
‘Mr Farmer’, Mike, is not one to spend money (unless it involves a vintage chassis). So her idea was to turn it into a meeting/community activity venue during the winter and a café serving simple but stunning fare to the tourists in the summer. She made me promise to think about it all with an open mind and then we arranged to meet up the following week.
My head was spinning, these are really good friends of mine, cafes can make good money in busy areas, but they can also lose money if the foot fall and demographics aren’t right. The work is not as easy as some outside the industry think and Mike isn’t known for his cuddly understanding ways!! Could such a venture really work in the winter and could the busy tourist seasons ensure its financial survival?
The pressure of working with friends always stresses me so I prepared even more carefully for our meeting. First I did a three-year projection plan of operating costs, including utilities, accountancy fees, legal fees, planning fees, setting up costs etc. Second I prepared a list of winter ideas and menus for the summer. Then I did the fun bit – I developed an itinerary of outlets to show them. They are both regular visitors to the City so they know the good restaurants and hotels but they don’t venture into cafés, food markets and hip eateries. I sat down and went through my trusted list and arranged to meet them in Look Mum No Hands, which is round the corner from my flat in EC1 next to a bicycle repair shop (Mike was a little wary when I explained where I wanted to meet).
Kate was impressed and I could see her brain racing. We then headed off to my favourite local restaurant, café, and wedding reception/party venue: The Modern Pantry. I could see they were both starting to work out how these ideas could help them form their own successful venture. We then got a taxi to Oxford Circus to a café that used to be a loo, The Attendant, before walking to Work Shop Coffee Co. When I told them we were then heading off to Barnes they looked a little puzzled but even I venture out of the City occasionally, especially when the food and beverages are good. When we entered Orange Pekoe, they knew the trip was worth it.
Those of you that know me know I am an expert on all things Ottolenghi, so as I left them heading off to the theatre I arranged to meet for lunch in Islington’s Ottolenghi restaurant the following day. I could hardly walk I was so full of tea, coffee, cake and the paté platter was a real over indulgence!
As I rushed to Ottolenghi the following day, I passed by Camden Passage and a thunderbolt hit me. How long was the lease on Kate’s antiques shop? Could we not combine two of her ventures together, both of which would be close to home and easier for her to manage alongside her B&B? She was ecstatic and the thought of combining the two, saving rent on the shop and even charging the antique business a small rent. Mike suddenly started to relax about the whole idea. Serving great coffee and tea blends alongside local home-made cakes and light lunches along the lines of Ottolenghi in an antique shop based in a fifteenth Century church must be a winner – Kate was in heaven, another exciting project was really coming to life in her head. I always enjoy my work but this day was very special.
The following morning I sent them off to explore Borough Market after Maltby Street – Mike will talk about this visit to London for a very long time!
Stuart Everson co-founded City based Everson Hewett, now part of Restaurant Associates. He now manages his advisory company Everson and Partners and is part of the EP Evolution network.