The café industry isn’t typically known for longevity of tenure but Patricia England of ‘The Mason’s Apron Bakery and Café’ in Virginia, Co Cavan is celebrating 20 years in business this month. I caught up with Patricia and asked her to share some of her experiences from her 20 years.
Can you give a brief description of your business?
“The business opens at 8:30 each day serving breakfast, lunch and an important ‘to go’ option of coffee and baked goods. We also supply a number of other businesses locally with our breads and bakery products including Richard Corrigan’s Park Hotel here in Virginia. When we open, it’s ‘all go’ with a steady flow of people in and out. “
Operating for 20 years since 2003 is a very significant amount of time for a café, what do you think were your key milestones?
“Starting a café business is a lot of work and for the first 2 years it felt like I didn’t know if I was coming or going. Looking back now I really didn’t know what I was letting myself in for! I had great support from family and friends and after the 2 year mark I felt I had a good handle on what the business was about and how it worked for me.”
“At 10 years, the business was really settling down; I had a solid team that knew their jobs and I could rely on them to do their jobs well. I was also getting great support from the immediate community of Virginia and this really helped. We also had some lucky breaks; Ryan Tubridy hosted his radio show with Nevin Maquire at the café, these visits always help to lift the profile of the business and give a bit of excitement and buzz around the place.”
If you were to think of one ‘game changer’ moment, what would it be and why?
“Coffee has always been an important part of our business, but I suppose the real game changing moment happened when we realised that coffee was becoming something much more; coffee was forming a part of the social fabric of the community; facilitating interaction and providing a meeting place. We invested in our coffee equipment, we moved to Woodland Coffee, and we extended our outdoor seating area. This was critical as our outdoor seating area gives great publicity, allows us to serve more tables but most importantly, it allows for a different atmosphere for dining and casual exchanges between our guests. It also allowed us to tap into the valuable ‘dog friendly’ customer too.”
How do you keep yourself motivated?
“Without question the number one motivator is working with a great team of people, some of our team has been with me since I first opened. Working with great people makes it all the easier to enjoy being busy. I also love chatting with my customers and being a part of the community. Keeping up with trends and investigating new products is also something I really enjoy.”
If you were advising someone starting out, what piece of advice would you give?
“You need to know how to do everything in your business, be that making cakes, knowing what great coffee should taste like, payroll, cashflow forecasting, the works!
You also need to be well funded; it takes time for the business to generate enough cash for it to sustain itself meeting the obligations of tax, staff and creditors. Make sure you understand how much money you need and how much you have during those first few years.
Get a good child minder, at the beginning of my adventure I did not have any children but within 8 years I had 3 so family support and a good child minder is essential.
Be prepared to work hard, it’s a tough business but look for team members that want to grow with you and stay.
Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, I’ve got a lot of good advice from people over the years and I’m still grateful for it.”
We wish Patricia and her team the very best for the years ahead and congratulations on reaching a very significant 20 year birthday!
David and The Watermark Team