By Mick Dickinson, founder of BuzzedUp
Elly Curshen’s Pear Cafe, situated just off Brunswick Square, central Bristol, is a culinary haven for anyone seeking fresh, tasty food and friendly service. As the business approaches its fourth year, Elly reflects on how she got started, the realities of running a business, and the philosophy that lies behind a thriving local enterprise.
How did you end up running a cafe in one of Bristol’s oldest squares?
I had been managing bars and restaurants for a while. A friend and I decided to start a catering company, so we signed up to a half-day seminar called ‘Thinking about Business?’ When we arrived at the venue, I noticed a small unit was available for rent in the courtyard.
The whole time I was in the seminar, which was at BRAVE, the local enterprise agency, I was thinking about the empty space downstairs! After, Liz, the manager at BRAVE, showed us around. The place was in a bit of a state, but I was hooked.
Do food business have to abide by many Rules and Regulations?
Because of my background I knew what many of the obligations were. The big difference for me now is that the buck stops with me. So I have to be sure about everything, and am responsible for everything.
What sort of marketing do you do?
It’s changed a lot. I’ve never advertised. People like what we do and they send other people our way.
Recently I’ve been using Twitter and my website to promote the business. The main menu is on the website and I tweet our specials each day.
My Blackberry is my whole office. I have everything on there: email, schedule, Twitter, even mail shots. Because I’m cooking or serving all day, I keep the Blackberry in my apron pocket: it keeps me connected!
What’s you attitude to the produce and ingredients you use?
Bread is the only thing that we don’t bake here; we get from Herbert’s bakery, only half a mile away. I don’t know of any other cafe locally that makes everything fresh and sandwiches and salads to order like we do.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
In our first year we took part in a Mardi Gras festival, which turned out to be a big mistake. It cost me so much to take part that I nearly lost everything. It taught me a lesson: always look after my core business first, to stay focused, and not get drawn in by other people’s ideas that are not central to the business.
What’s the difference between being an employee and running your own business?
This makes me happy. I have worked 70-hour weeks for four years, but I don’t mind because this business is my baby, and I want to make it work. I’d much rather do this than a job that doesn’t make me happy.
Do you have any plans to expand the business?
I don’t want this to become just another cafe chain. Right now I want to be at the heart of it: making the food, serving the customers. I don’t want to be managing a string of outlets and people.
Do you have any tips for people thinking about starting a business?
Learn at someone else’s expense. It might sound mercenary, but if your dream is to run a business, you’ll need to be good at it. Why not learn on the job for someone else? That way you can watch and learn. Stretch yourself. Ask questions. Open your eyes to issues the owner has to deal with.
Just because you like cooking doesn’t mean you can run a restaurant. Running a business involves a hundred and one other things. It’s bloody hard work, but it’s brilliant!