Hugh Blackbourn | Salisbury, UK
There are not many places with a history dating back as far as Salisbury. Located in Wiltshire, just 8 miles away from the world-famous Stonehenge, the area is steeped in myths and legends. Now a popular tourist destination, but with a strong local community of people who want to preserve and improve their small city, it’s somewhat unexpected to discover the city centre is dominated by national (and international) chains of retailers. That’s one of the reasons Hugh decided to open his own proudly-independent Café in 2016, as an antidote to the boring and faceless high street options; Culture Coffee was born.
As we understand it, you used to work in the world of Publishing? How did you find yourself opening a café in Salisbury?
As a Publisher, I travelled a lot - and visited a wide range of independent coffee houses - which got me hooked on great coffee. Salisbury, by contrast, has a large number of coffee chains, but none are known for great coffee. I’d always wanted to run my own business, so this presented the perfect opportunity to launch a cafe for coffee lovers as a sort of antidote to the chains.
What were your biggest surprises/challenges in building and retaining a team? Can you offer any advice to new business owners about recruitment?
It can be hard building a team as a startup - why would anyone join a new employer with no history in the sec-tor and for a cafe that hasn’t even launched yet? The good news is that recruitment gets easier with time: it’s not just customers that are attracted to those things that make your business exciting and special, but staff too. Whether by word-of-mouth, visits in person, or social media feedback - potential staff soon get a sense of what you are like. A year in, and the surprises are now positive - such as when a team member responds in a way that not only mirrors something you might do, but does it even better! That feels like success.
My advice to new business owners is to trust your judgement and to hire people you like. If you like them, chances are they will like you too, the team dynamic will be better - and life becomes a lot easier.
I know Salisbury has a competitive coffee shop scene these days, with a small number of independents and large number of high street chains in a relatively small community. How do you set yourself apart and keep customers coming back to your café?
Rather than copying the chains, we aim to standout and make our cafe a ‘destination’. Our approach was, first, get the fundamentals right: a friendly, efficient team, a welcoming environment, delicious coffee and interesting food. Now these are in place, we aim to keep on improving. The beauty of being small is that you don’t need to ask ‘head-office’ for permission, but can keep on adapting to stay ahead. Engage with your customers and experiment. Experimenting is fun.
Tell us about your first year of Culture Coffee, what have you got right, and what have been your biggest milestones?
One thing we took great care to get right was our choice of coffee supplier - Ozone Coffee Roasters. And it’s not just the beans, Ozone also provide training to ensure our new baristas are great at what they do, the best beans, great trainers and a fantastic coffee machine - all you need to produce the best coffee in Salisbury.
Experiences with other suppliers have been more mixed. Hospitality is populated by many different suppliers - some of which are very large indeed - and we have struggled to find smaller, independent suppliers that share our values. We are not giving up though and are constantly searching for similar-minded individuals, or small businesses we can work with.