This week sees the New Moon rising and Neptune, Jupiter and Pluto are all doing their bit to make this a good time to start new projects that require imagination and visualisation skills. Furthermore, all this Piscean energy is meant to be a good time to make important changes to our lives.
I guess this includes business lives too. Whether you believe in horoscopes or not, itís good to take a hard look at oneís business activities, product ranges and processes and have a spring clean from time to time. Unaware of any upcoming stellar constellations, this is what has been on our minds since the beginning of the year already.
When I first started Konditor & Cook there were very few specialist cake shops and good-quality bakeries in London. Back then, the exception was Sally Clarke, based in upmarket Kensington. Her restaurant/bakery was the first beacon of a newer breed of concepts to come. What did exist were traditional, continental concepts started by French, Austrian or Hungarian immigrant owners. Most of them have closed by now - probably as a result of ageing concepts, but more likely crippling rent increases.
One of the survivors is the famed Louis Patisserie in Hampstead. It has been going strong since 1963. Iím guessing the owner might have bought the freehold, and thus kept his rent at a reasonable level. Either that or their Hampstead clientele has fabulously deep pockets, as well as an everlasting craving for its Hungarian-inspired pastries. As early as the late 1970s, my friend Henrietta, who lived out her rock íní roll years in NW3, used to report to me that the owner drove a golden-coloured Rolls Royce. This was her way of telling me to come to London and start a cake shop!
When that finally happened - in a rather down at heel Waterloo - people were not used to buying cakes and treats as they do now. I felt the only way to get customers through the doors is by luring them in with a daily offering of hot and cold savouries. The daily lunch was something everyone was used to buying in take-away form. Once in the shop, so my thinking went, the trap would shut and they would also succumb to a piece of mouth-watering cake or an indulgent brownie and later return for birthday and wedding cakes. My concept, based on this two-pronged approach, took off and a handful of stores based on the same model have followed since.
But times have changed. Iíve only managed to save up for a bronze-coloured Merc (worse, the actual colour is steppe brown). It has no RR classiness, more A-Class and itís definitely not rock íní roll. More interestingly, people have changed the way they eat and shop. For lunch they queue for street food or in very narrowly-defined concepts from sandwiches to salads, or burritos to kimchee. It hasnít stopped with savouries. Consumers are now more educated about baking too and hike to trendy bakehouses for their sourdough, pastel-coloured parlours for their cupcakes, or gilded palaces for their macarons.
Iím sure many businesses, including my own 20-year-old concept, can benefit from some pruning from time to time. When you are a business founder it is often hard to let go of things. It helps when you have independent input, such as I enjoy in the form of our CEO (Cake Eating Officer) Paul Cons. He suggested to trial an updated concept and, without emotional ties, is happy to wield the secateurs and prune away non-profit-making activities such as a labour-intense and low-GP lunchtime offers. Now that the stars are playing their part, Iím even more excited to see our Borough Market site relaunched as a cake-only destination.