St Ives (no, not the one in Cornwall) is a beautiful Medieval market town close to Cambridge, in the East of England. Located on a river in rolling green countryside, St Ives looks and feels like a postcard version of the UK, with a proud community to match. River Terrace Café is based in an old Manor House built around 1590, beside a Grade I listed Medieval bridge dating back to 1425. The café includes a large terrace right on the river, observing the epic bridge and a wild looking meadow on the opposite bank, and due to the surprisingly sheltered position – it can be used all year round. The business had been known as The River Tea Rooms for decades before it’s new life as a modern café. Having grown up in NZ before moving to the UK, Anita had often dreamed of opening a café in Cambridge; something similar to the places she missed from back home. After a few years of craving proper coffee and finding nowhere for a decent local brunch, the perfect opportunity came along when the business came up for sale and she could make it her own.
You acquired the café as an existing (although very different) business. It can be difficult as the owner or manager when you are the newest member of the team. Can you offer any advice to business owners who have inherited a team from a previous employer? How did you get your team onboard with new ideas?
My game plan was to be a sitting duck for the first few months. Leave everything at it was for the meantime and just watch and learn. Learn the game, learn my customers, learn what worked and what didn’t work. We originally had the intention of coming in, and ripping everything up, but after the first couple of weeks I decided I needed to sit still and learn my customer base, figure out my staff and even learn the layout of my building. We held off the renovations for 6 months, which was the best decision in the end. The easiest way to get my team on board I found, was to listen to them. They knew the business better than me (at this stage). I found I could help by solving simple, immediate issues on the spot. For example, some of my team had to share aprons as there weren’t enough for one each, they also hadn’t had a new broom in years and didn’t have a vacuum cleaner. I purchased all three items on the first day – simple comforts to help make their job easier! I needed to give my team the tools to help them succeed, and this is something I’ve really carried going forward. When my team realised I was backing their corner and wanting to help them, listen to them, work with them, this is when we became a team with a focus.
Can you offer any advice to business owners looking to set up shop in a small community?
Location, Location, Location. You need to have something special. Getting people through your doors is the first step while the ultimate goal is getting people to come back time and time again. I thought we were a small town but I still have over 40 other eateries to compete with.
Know your customer, I originally thought opening up at 7am was the answer to get the before business trade… turns out there isn’t much of trade before 8.30am in my sleepy town. And you need to be prepared to diversify. We have started doing evening events during summer to take full advantage of our terrace and the long nights. We are using this to try and gain a following for our winter months and winter events. And use customer service to your great advantage! One thing I’ve found that has really made us stand out is actually getting out from behind the counter, walking around and chatting with our customers, whether they are regulars or just one-off visitors, everybody loves to feel welcome and one of my main aims with my café is to make it feel like everybody’s second home.
Last time I caught up with some of your team from the Ozone roastery, I was delighted to see how excited and interested they were to learn more about food, coffee and hospitality. Have you actively nurtured this culture? If so, how? Or where has it come from?
When I originally took over the Tea Rooms, I was pleasantly surprised to find an awesome team waiting for me. The loyalty to the Tea Rooms was incredible. The newest member had been with the team for two years and the manager nine years. So, I had an incredible wealth of experience to draw from. They had been doing the same thing day in and day out for years. They were hungry for change. And it helped they are all coffee addicts! Bringing my team down to Ozone in the early days, really helped show the team what direction we wanted to go in, they really lit up seeing how everyone at Ozone were so passionate for coffee, service and food. I told them to go out to other cafes, get some inspo and bring it back with them. Initially, everyone did a bit of everything which was great, but I sat down and spoke to them all and found out what their drive and passion was within the industry, what they wanted to do. This resulted in set roles within the café so everyone knew what they were doing and became in charge of their station – we’ve even taken a chef on board! We now have a diverse team and by developing their passion’s, each team member is empowered to champion our brand.