Owner, Society Cafe — Bath, UK
My wife and I both come from a service background, which is why service is so important to us. We’ve always been in hospitality. I actually started out in fitness, doing personal training in gyms and working my way up to management level. I loved the gym floor and interacting with people and all the personalities. I love service and helping people, but as soon as I got up to management level it was all about sales and making money. I didn’t enjoy that. I’m not a sales person, so we decided to change.
It’s a completely different world—all lords and ladies and counts and all sorts of people who were all quite intimidating to serve.
My wife is a chef and has done a lot of catering, so our first business together was a private catering company where we’d go to people’s homes. You know, wealthy people who didn’t want to cook their own dinner. It’s a completely different world—all lords and ladies and counts and all sorts of people who were all quite intimidating to serve. But that’s what we did. We would cook and I would serve in the evening. It worked, it was brilliant, but we wanted to do it too well. We took it to another level. It wasn’t really viable, because we didn’t charge enough. We’d go to nice butchers and fish mongers and it would take us half a day just to buy all of the ingredients, then we had to prep them and what we charged just wasn’t enough for a full day’s work. We loved it but we knew it wasn’t viable, so we decided it was time for another change.
So next, at the age of 26, my wife and I bought a 14-bedroom hotel with a 40-seater restaurant in the Cotswolds in England. We took ownership on a Wednesday night with 10 of the rooms occupied and the restaurant fully booked. There had been no hand-over period and we just got stuck into the schedule, my wife in the kitchen and myself front of house. From then, we worked an average of 15 hours a day, 7 days a week and we loved it. We had to learn everything, but the best thing we learned was the simple importance of giving customers the best possible experience. You can overcome most mistakes or failings with genuine, honest kindness.
I think many problems would be resolved if people had more respect for each other.
One of my favorite things is this TedX talk called ‘The Golden Circle.’ It’s about why some businesses succeed while others don’t. It’s always about the ‘why.’ If you talk about what you do and how you do it, it’s interesting, but why you do it is so much more important. The ‘why’ for my café is to give customers a great experience. It’s about making everyone’s day better. If someone comes through the door in a bad mood, the temptation with a lot of business is to be a bit lacking with them, but you can’t do that—you need to try and make their day better, instead. Who knows what might have happened to them that day? So we try to send them off in a good mood. That’s our why—just doing everything better. There are so many things that are beautiful and right about the world and so many things that are utterly wrong. I think many problems would be resolved if people had more respect for each other, a sense of doing the right thing for each other or a commitment to making someone else’s day better.
Cycling and photography are my two big passions. That’s the beautiful thing about the cafe business—it’s a lifestyle business and you can bring those kinds of things into it. We have bikes on the walls, and it’s a popular thing in cafes now but for me, that happened because I had nowhere to store my bike. It’s a beautiful, hand-painted Italian bike, so I thought: that’s nice, that can go on the wall. Why not? So there are bikes on the walls, there’s photography on the walls. And it’s great because I meet people who are photographers and then suddenly that becomes a bigger thing and we have exhibitions in the cafe. It’s just a nice, natural flow.
There’s something about going for a ride outside, even in the middle of winter in the snow—there’s a bit of adrenaline there.
I’ve always enjoyed sports, outdoor sports in particular. There’s something about going for a ride outside, even in the middle of winter in the snow—there’s a bit of adrenaline there. Coming from Yorkshire too, the countryside is so beautiful that you can’t not want to go out and climb up a mountain or run. You feel like the sky is much closer to the ground in Yorkshire, and there’s something about that. I think it is very important to escape regularly from the hectic pace of the world, find somewhere calm and just sit and do absolutely nothing other than listen to the wind or follow a bird’s flight.