Case Study - The Kitchen Cafe

Nick Padgett, The Kitchen Café

 

From rugby coach to cafe owner.

So what does coaching a team of boisterous boys on a rugby pitch have in common with serving cappuccinos and paninis to hungry office workers? Well, probably not a lot, but both occupations have proved highly successful for Nick Padgett, from Hertfordshire.

Nick, 45, has spent years working his way up the rugby coaching ladder, including at the Saracens academy and most recently with a semi-pro London rugby league club, until the COVID-19 lockdown in early 2020 saw him furloughed. When his partner Susan Chan, 47, was first furloughed from her job in the accounts department with car manufacturer Honda, and then made redundant, the couple, who have a little girl, found their world turned upside down and an uncertain future lying ahead of them.

But as is often the case in unexpected situations, opportunity came knocking – and it was not anything they could have predicted. “My friend runs a big kitchen showroom called Wentworth Kitchens on the outskirts of Letchworth, and the people who had been running the cafe within it decided to give it up,” Nick explained. “So, my friend casually asked me if I knew of anybody who might want to take it on, and I just said ‘yes, us!’”

Susan has experience of the catering industry as she grew up in Scotland, helping her family run their own Chinese takeaways and restaurants. Nick admits it was an entirely new experience for him, but says he “was fed up of standing outside and getting wet” on rugby fields across the country so he was ready for a change and happy to venture outside his comfort zone.

Queuing out the door.

With Nick and Susan at the helm, The Kitchen Cafe opened its doors in August 2020 to a trickle of customers that soon turned into a steady stream, as word spread among the people working at other businesses on the industrial estate where the showroom is based.

“We weren’t sure what to expect,” Nick said. “Visitors to the showroom will usually grab a drink to carry round with them, but it’s the staff from the nearby businesses that form the bulk of our clientele for food. Things took off straight away, and we quickly reached a point where we literally had people queuing out of the door and waiting for tables!”

Susan’s ‘daily special’ lunches have proved especially popular, possibly because they often involve delicious Chinese flavours, such as salt and pepper prawns, and are great value at around £8.

The Kitchen Cafe is open weekdays from 9am to 3pm and serves a variety of hot and cold breakfast and lunch items, to eat in or take out, as well as hot and cold drinks. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the couple have had to revert to a takeaway-only service and are looking forward to resuming a normal service in the future.

Nick added: “It’s a nice place to sit in and eat, the cafe is fitted out with the kitchen manufacturer’s equipment, so it’s all good quality. I tend to go in early and get the ovens going, then Susan arrives mid-morning and covers front of house.

“It’s a proper family-run business, and we are enjoying it despite all the challenges thrown up by COVID. We’re definitely in it for the long term.”

Focus on food safety.

And, like many catering outlets across the UK, Nick and Susan were keen to cover off their allergen food safety obligations. Nick explained: “My aunt works for a hotel chain and as I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing at first, she asked their catering manager to give me some advice. He told me about the food allergen regulations and recommended using Allergen Checker.

“I looked it up online and decided to subscribe for a year as it seemed such good value, working out at around £1 a day. There is a bit of work to do with manually inputting all the ingredients for each dish, but once that’s done it’s easy.

“I’d recommend Allergen Checker to any cafe owner. Our cafe is now completely ready for Natasha’s Law, and it is reassuring for both our staff and our customers to know we have everything in place regarding food allergen safety.

“We haven’t needed to contact Mark as the system is so straightforward, but he’s rung us a few times to check everything is ok. He clearly cares about clients and his business, and he always asks for feedback in case there’s anything we think of that could further improve the Allergen Checker service.”

 

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