Money Small Business Opening your own café: some tips from an expert
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Opening your own café: some tips from an expert

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Culinary veteran Simmone Logue didn’t always want to work with food. In fact, her first ambition was to be a ballerina.

On leaving school, she joined a touring dance company, reaching, in her own words, “those dreamy heights of ballet”.

But the strain of touring took its toll.

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“I was in my early 20s, and it became extremely taxing both physically and mentally. It was unrewarding financially. Being in the ballet taught me discipline that I apply in every day life. I am a very ambitious person. The entrepreneur in me kicked in and I had to dig deep to find my other passion.”

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Running your own cafe is not exactly a piece of cake. Photo: Shutterstock

The soul searching brought her back to her roots and her other passion – food.

“I had noticed a lack of real home-style desserts in the retail outlets and cafes. The first thing I did was meet with my grannies and get their favourite cake recipes. I created a list of cakes and puddings. I baked my first cake, walked in to the nearest café and sold it.”

Ms Logue also spent time working in restaurants learning cooking techniques and how to run a business.

“This gave me a snapshot of what lay ahead. I would say it’s essential to anyone wanting to open a café or eatery.”

Twenty years down the track, Ms Logue employs 80 staff with an annual turnover of $10 million. The wholesale division is now the foundation of the business. Clients include Qantas, David Jones, Virgin Airlines and Woolworths.

She offers these tips.

Don’t dive in the deep end

One important lesson is to start slow. Learn about the business, do your homework, talk to other people and step slowly into the commitment.

It is so important for people to understand that margins in the food business are very small.

People foolishly spend large amounts on fit-outs before they’ve had any turnover. Be lean and thoughtful with money.

“I can remember doing it all. I was prepping the tins, baking, washing the floor and then jumping into my car and delivering the cakes all over town.”

Be present: in the food business, you have to be all over it

Customers need to see you. Have your eyes across every invoice that comes in and also what goes out.

“This is a cents and minutes game because margins are so small. For every minute that your casual staff are not required, or food is wasted or lack of sales – you must have your eyes on it all.”

Shutterstock
Private equity investors can provide a lifeline. Photo: Shutterstock

Don’t grow too fast

After opening her Balmain café success came very quickly.

“People no longer came in for salad and dessert. They came in and bought the whole meal. This suited busy professionals who took the food into their homes and dinner parties.”

Business took off and Ms Logue opened more outlets and says she stretched herself too thin.

“I began to lose control as I expanded into other outlets and we were losing profit. I either had to consolidate this down or build this to something bigger. I decided to grow as I knew I had a valuable brand.”

Growth came via the addition of a private equity investor.

“This was the best thing I ever did. We looked at what was working and what wasn’t and put an action plan together. It’s great to see it grow, not only from a brand, but also to employ great people; although it can be scary at times.”

Work harder than ever before

The biggest misunderstanding is how much hard work it takes.

“You will eat, sleep and breathe it. It’s physically demanding. You are on your feet 10 hours a day. You must remain buoyant and pleasant to staff and customers. Thankfully, I still love what I do,” she says.

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