There are so many things I could start my random rants about but there is never a better place to start than the beginning. How did Pritchard and Ure come to be at Camden Garden Centre?
For me it started with a job advert looking for a cafe manager for a social enterprise garden centre. The purpose of the enterprise being to help young disadvantaged people into employment, something it has been doing since 1982. The aim to carry this purpose through to the cafe in the future was enough for me, once offered the job, to delay my plans for a social enterprise specialty food and drink training academy and take this significant challenge on. Significant because how to combine a traditional garden centre clientele into an increasingly food and coffee savvy area in a slightly oddball location would present itself as a challenge. Having been at the start of the fledgling market for ethically sound and very high quality, specialist food and coffee over 7 years ago gave me the confidence to take this challenge on.
For the garden centre a cafe had been something they had considered for many years and in a market sector where this is now almost expected they decided in January 2015 to take the plunge. With no in house experience a consultant was hired to provide the outline for the physical use of the significant and historic space. It is a victorian building and has has been used as a train servicing depot amongst other things over the years, the arches still visible. The next challenge was what would the cafe be. We wanted it to be different. and stand out. It had to be good. As a new income stream for the charity owned garden centre it had to reach certain levels and reach out to a wider audience than just the current customer base. The garden centre is far from mediocre housing one of the biggest and best plant displays in London and the cafe had to be the same.
With a challenging location we know we have to stand out from the crowd, offering a great product goes without saying but we want to go the extra mile in creating an experience. In addition and in keeping with the social aspect of the garden centre we want the cafe to have a greater social impact. The obvious option is to train more apprentices as done by the garden centre. But with a big investment in time and money needed to achieve this and the need for the cafe to immediately begin to generate an income to pay back the investment made by the charity and provide additional income for the charities work it was decided to not take this route. At least not for now.
Instead and using my experience and knowledge of the specialty and ethical food scene we decided to look at all the aspects of running a cafe and the negative impact these can have on the local and wider environment and specifically how we source our food and drink which can often, although improving, have a detrimental effect on producers, people and animal welfare at home and abroad. Yes it can seem like it is all we hear about sometimes but the truth is these are still huge issues. Only recently we have been hearing about the fate of milk farmers in the UK. Just because these issues are now more mainstream than when I started and incidentally why I started in the industry does not mean they have gone away. Just because a few very good places are doing amazing things and many more are making the right noises does not mean our job is done. Quite the opposite. Now is the time to hit critical mass and keep banging on about these issues whilst creating a viable and excellent alternative.
So that's our social aim. Minimising the negative impacts of running a cafe whilst working hard to generate income and profits for our charity which has a different set of social aims. More on those another time. When we combine the two we will have an even better business.
Have we forgotten about our customers? Hell no. Without them none of this makes any sense. I learnt that the hard way. So to our customers we are simply a place to relax, unwind, have fun, work, chill, or whatever reason they visit us and our job is to create the best experience possible because make no mistake, the cafe business is not about food and coffee, its about experience and a little bit of entertainment in whatever form that takes for you. And no, I have not forgotten about the food and drink. To me the quality and excellence of this should be a given, nowadays, no excuses.
How we go about this behind the scenes and what we stand for is purely the mechanics of our operation. But sharing this with our customers is good and critical as people are increasingly conscious of these issues when making their purchasing choices. This makes me very happy.
And finally, the name. We wanted a separate brand name for the cafe. Pritchard and Ure? Its the surname of 2 of the trustees of the charity. Wendy Pritchard and David Ure? Simple and effective. Like everything else we aim to do.