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Customer Insight: Tollesbury Café and Cuisine

Samantha Deacon came home from work one day to announce that she had unexpectedly bought a takeaway business. And that turned out to be just the start of it. She and her husband now also own a cafe in the village of Tollesbury in Essex and they are not done yet.

What does your business do?

Tollesbury Cuisine is a takeaway selling pizzas, burgers chips together with homemade lasagnes and curries and Tollesbury Café is a homely café across the road which is open for traditional breakfasts, lunches and cake.

How long have you been running it?

We have had the takeaway business since 2018 and we opened the café in 2020.

Why did you decide to start your business?

I was working full time at the Environmental Agency and Russel was a firefighter. We were about to get married so I also got a part-time job as a driver at Tollesbury Cuisine to save some money for the wedding. Two months later the owner said she was going to sell the business so I instantly told her I would buy it. I went home that night and told Russel that I’d just bought a business. That’s how it all started.

We initially ran Tollesbury Cuisine in the evenings while we kept our day jobs which was a long hard slog. Then we decided we wanted to have somewhere where people could sit down to eat. We thought about buying a bus to sit in, which I thought would be quirky, but unfortunately the landlord wasn’t keen. So we started renting a building near the café which we were going to turn into a restaurant and bar. We did a lot of work decorating it and building a kitchen but planning permission was declined.

Then the café became available to rent, so we thought, we’ll have that as well. So now we run the café during the day, seven days a week from 9am to 3pm, then we walk across the road and run the takeaway from 5pm to 8.30pm five nights a week. We get Monday and Tuesday evenings off.

How did you finance your business?

From savings and Russel’s retirement fund.

How long have you been an XLN customer?

Since 2018. We have XLN broadband and phone for both the café and the takeaway. We have an EPOS till system so we need it for that.

What is the biggest challenge of running your business?

Managing staff. We employ 15 members of staff and it can be a headache. But with no staff we have no business so we need to thank them all for doing a great job. It is a full-time job trying to look after everybody, I thought that if we had the staff the business would run itself. But it doesn’t work like that.

Do you enjoy running your business?

I absolutely love working in the café and the takeaway; I love being in charge and I love sending food out that looks lovely and makes people smile. When you put down a plate of food and someone goes, oh wow, that really does make my day. I get a bit bogged down in the paperwork and admin, but unfortunately that comes with the job.

What are your plans for the business?

We need to do something with the building we didn’t get planning permission for, because we have a five-year lease on it. We are using it as storage at the moment but I don’t want to give it up because I still think we could do something with it and make it work for us.

What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?

Furlough kept us afloat – if it hadn’t been for that we probably would have folded. We kept a few people in the café doing takeaways at the door for the first lockdown but we had to close it for the second lockdown so we lost a lot of income. We kept the takeaway open all the time and that saved us.

What personal quality has been most useful to you while running your business? Imagination – I love thinking up new things that other places don’t do. We have a colouring-in corner in the café where the children can do colouring in and put it up on the board. Every Monday we choose a winner and give them an ice cream or a slush puppy. It means they keep coming back to see if they have won, we love seeing regular faces.

What has been the secret of your success so far?

Hard work and perseverance. My family always told me don’t give up when things go wrong; if you work hard, it will pay off eventually.

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