When I was a small child my Lombard parents once took me to the food shop Peck in Milan. There from the ceilings hung prosciutti, on wall to wall shelves sat plump wheels of cheese, tall jars of artichokes in oil, metal tins of cannellini beans, slender bottles of olive oil and terracotta vats of olives, capers and anchovies. My wide three year old’s eyes could scarcely take it all in.
The smell of fresh Amalfi lemons, Sicilian blood oranges, San Marzano tomatoes and ripe peaches stayed with me – I was born in an Italian family where fresh, simple, homemade food was very important every day, and it is no wonder that I pursued a career in food.
After having worked in restaurants, wine bars, shops, cookery schools and having run a catering business, I opened my own grocery shop-tearoom here in Bath in December 2014. Now, after thirteen months of constant graft, the small team and I are really pleased with the way business is progressing – of course some days are quiet, whereas other days the shop is rammed, both unpredictable and uncontrollable events. But we are getting into the rhythm of the job – slowly learning the pace of the work.
We are down a destination street, Margaret’s Buildings, so it has been really important to create a beautiful display outside the shop to attract passers-by from the main street, Brock Street, which pulls in the visitors coming to see the Royal Crescent and The Circus.
Every day I showcase our groceries, lunches, coffees, wines, takeaways, fresh produce and homewares on social media – Instagram, Facebook and Twitter – as well as trying to keep our website and journal as up to date and beautiful as time allows.
Setting up your own food business is an enormous challenge – it requires deep financial resources to keep the shelves stocked and the wages, utilities, rent, rates, insurance, broadband etc, etc, paid.
It also means you need a magic crystal ball – to evaluate how much perishable stock to order and when, to guess how many people will come into the tearoom for lunch, to fathom how many members of staff you will need for each shift and for how long.
Dealing with the public is also an art – you need to breathe slowly and count to ten when customers do not understand why a lemon that has come from the Mediterranean costs £2 or why a handmade loaf, made from organic flour and local ingredients by a master baker costs £2.50, or the very freshest, locally sourced purple sprouting broccoli are more expensive in our shop than Lidl, or why we do not stock twelve varieties of olive oil, just two.
Despite all the challenges, we have had a very encouraging year – we are a community hub, so many tourists and visitors have found us on social media and have travelled from afar to shop and eat in our establishment, we have been featured in so many different magazines, lots and lots of food and lifestyle bloggers have come to see us and we have a small, loyal customer base that come in every single day, for coffee and croissants, for lunch, for groceries or presents.
The cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake is that we are nominated in the New Business category for 2016 by Bath Life magazine. In a city bursting with creativity and entrepreneurial talent it is a real honour.
Nobody warned me how physically and mentally exhausting this would all be but I have learned an enormous amount in the last year – from finding good suppliers, to hiring good staff and managing accounts, marketing, mechandising and waste, my learning curve has been as steep as the north face of the Aiger.
I am really fortunate that I know so many business owners in Bath, and so many have been really supportive and helpful – we share stories, experience, advice and guidance, bolstering each other and chatting through our challenges and our victories.
I will keep all our readers posted on the journal as to how we are doing – the highs, the lows and the in-between days. Sometimes I feel as if I am living in a mini TV drama – really!