So, I decided to open a café.
This is the story of how it all started and how it feels two weeks after opening.
Towards the end of last year I heard a rumour, nothing more, that a café might soon be available in St. Agnes, the village where I live. A friend called me and asked if I might be interested in a partnership and, as she has been involved with a couple of lovely food businesses in the past, I was both intrigued and interested.
I did a bit of fact finding and we got together on 20th December to discuss how the partnership might work in principle. The problem was that we needed to act fast and the timing was unfortunately all wrong for my friend so I took a leap into the unknown and opened up the café, on my own, on 20th January this year.
Now a month isn’t very long to plan a business venture and as Christmas and New Year fell into that month, in reality I only had about two weeks (although I do remember basting the turkey and planning menus in my head at the same time!).
The café is based inside a community centre called The Miner’s and Mechanics Institute (MMI). This is a beautiful old building gifted to the people of St Agnes by the philanthropist John Passmore Edwards in 1893 “in perpetuity, for literary and scientific purposes as an Institute or reading room for the public benefit”. As the village now has a separate library the use has changed a little and you are more likely to find yoga classes or music tuition taking place inside but I am keen to find ways to support the original ideal.
I spent a few days at the beginning of January cleaning (with a little help from some lovely volunteers – you know who you are) and getting to know the building and its regular users whilst also trying to wrap up my other business commitments. At home I was planning menus, working out prices, designing posters, trying to open a bank account, sourcing suppliers, researching insurance and generally panicking. I had an industrial oven with a state of the art extractor system and couldn’t work out how to switch it all on! I had a beautiful, gleaming espresso machine and absolutely no idea how to use it. What on earth did I think I was doing? I hadn’t even worked in a café since I was fifteen and in those days all coffee came out of a jar.
Eventually I settled on the coffee I wanted to stock (Puro Noble; organic, fair trade and 80% Arabica) and the company I wanted to buy it from (Cornish Coffee, based just up the road in Redruth). They in turn sent the wonderful Henry to teach me how to make the perfect espresso and some milk frothing skills for beginners. He has promised to return to teach me more advanced skills and I can’t wait.
In no time at all it was Sunday 19th January and I spent 13 hours straight in my kitchen at home baking cakes, cookies and quiches, simmering soups and preparing other hot dishes for days one and two. I was dead on my feet when I fell into bed that night and yet sleep eluded me. My head was just too busy planning. Eventually I got up and crept downstairs and at 3.00 a.m. I was watching old episodes of Heartbeat just to shut my brain up.
Finally it was time to get up and head in to the café. Martin helped me to cart all my stuff across and (thank goodness) worked out how to switch everything on – apparently the cooker won’t work unless the whole extraction unit and GIS system are on. It’s obvious now I know but…
Then Martin left. The doors were open and I was on my own.
The beautiful antique clock on the wall would have ticked loudly had it been working (note to self, get the clock mended) and time seemed to slow right down. The two ladies who used to run the café had been very popular, everyone loved their cakes and their vintage china. What if they hated me? What if my white mugs are just too boring? What if my cakes just weren’t good enough?
I had a little word with myself and was rescued by my first customer of the day – my mum. Thank goodness for mums. Then a chap came in who was waiting for a bus, we had a chat, his (instant) coffee wasn’t hot enough because I had inadvertently turned the boiler off. I put it right and the world didn’t end. I was starting to think that I could do this.
For the rest of the day I was too busy to worry about anything. OK, so most of my customers were friends but thank goodness for friends. My mum popped back in around lunch time and stayed to wash up, she has been back most days since to help out, staying in the background and being genuinely, wonderfully supportive.
On Monday night I slept wonderfully well. On Tuesday I was up at the crack of dawn to get in and bake because I had sold two days worth of cake on the first day. And so it started again.
Two weeks in and I am averaging 72 hours a week – I am open Monday to Saturday from 9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. and I am working all of those hours plus shopping and preparation time in the morning and cleaning after I close.
And that’s it, that’s how it will be until I am earning enough to employ someone. Please, please don’t think that I am complaining because I am not (even if my feet are). I am having so much fun: I am meeting some lovely people, if friends call in at quiet times I have a chance to catch up with their news, I get to cook every day (even if it is a bit weird making curry at 7.30 a.m.), I have time to listen to people’s passions and problems and I am beginning to feel firmly rooted in my community again.
So if you find yourself in St Agnes please pop in and see me and, if you fancy a job, I hope to be recruiting very, very soon. The main requirements are that you are equally passionate about people and food.
Now, time to stop wittering, I have to go and bake some cakes…