In the first of our series of entrepreneur profiles in which owners of established local businesses share their journeys and business wisdom, we talk to Lesley Evans who, together with husband Paul, owns and manages The Food Den, a successful high quality delicatessen based in Weston-super-Mare.
Who are you and what does your business do?
We are Lesley and Paul Evans, a husband and wife team. We own and manage The Food Den, a delicatessen in West Street, Weston-super-Mare, specialising in restaurant quality food that you enjoy eating in the comfort of your own home. We provide as little or as much as our customers need from a ready meal or individual dessert to a complete dinner party canapés or buffets. We also sell freshly-prepared sandwiches, soups and other specialities to take away as well as hampers and gift vouchers.
When did you start your business?
We opened The Food Den in January 2008.
What is your background and what made you decide to launch The Food Den?
Prior to running our delicatessen Paul and I have both always worked in the catering and hospitality sector. In fact Paul began helping in his mother’s pub and I started by working in a busy restaurant/club collecting and looking after ladies coats!
After working together in many establishments as chef and front of house we ran our own restaurant, Reflections in Weston-super-Mare, for thirteen years. We finally agreed however that working 17 hour days had begun to take its toll and as we now have grandchildren to enjoy, we wanted to achieve a better work/life balance and perhaps take on a new challenge.
Because of our great love of hospitality and working with people we decided to make the transition to running a deli, where we could offer fine quality fresh food at affordable prices, combined with fine hospitality.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when starting out?
The greatest challenge was learning a complete product range from scratch! Ninety per cent of what we sell is our own specialist products – you won’t find them in supermarkets.
We also started out in a recession when trading is at its most difficult.
And we were also introducing a new concept in Weston-super-Mare, a fresh takeaway with restaurant quality food to eat in the comfort of your own dining room.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Fortunately because we had run a local restaurant we were already known by many local people, so our reputation and following helped enormously.
We listened carefully to our customers and developed new ideas to deliver what they wanted and needed.
Our suppliers are local farmers because we want to champion local people and so we listened to their expertise and advice on the product front.
How did you decide on your USP – i.e. what makes you special – and how did you carry this through?
We wanted to offer something completely different and our delicatessen does just that. All our own range is handmade on the premises by Paul and his team using fresh local produce where possible, which means we can tailor make it to customer requirements including special dietary needs. Over the last four years we have catered for many diverse events and dishes including beef en croute for ten, pasta pots for 350 at a local sporting event and a cheesecake wedding cake.
We are always learning and seeking to improve our products and, of course, it’s important to keep up with trends. We are always looking for new dishes and ideas to make us unique, fresh and exciting
Paul is very interested in and passionate about food and also teaches high-end cookery on a one-to-one basis so he takes pride in being up-to-date with all the latest ideas. We also undertake on-going training and development.
How has your business grown and developed as it has progressed? What changes have you made and why?
We have invested in branding so that we have an identity that we can be proud of and which allows us to compete effectively with supermarkets and other competition.
We have also focused on a growing number of exclusive products, again from local suppliers, and on our own handmade products such as biscuits, dressings, pickles, chutneys, sauces and soups.
And we continue to listen to our customers – every step of the way.
What do you think have been your best three business decisions along the way?
Firstly we were able to buy our building rather than lease it – despite the fact that funding was hard to come by.
Secondly to source products from local suppliers and in doing so, put money back into the local economy.
Thirdly we held a very successful Open Day where we invited 150 of our previous customers and showcased our shop to them, explaining what we aimed to provide. We benefitted enormously from their support and feedback.
And what mistakes have you made and learnt from?
Buying products that look attractive on the shelf, but do not sell. We have also learnt not to book expensive advertising that doesn’t bring in customers and how to ignore poor advice from people who think they are experts! Getting proper advice from people who really know about business – like North Somerset Enterprise Agency – is essential.
What’s the best thing about running your business?
To be in control of your own destiny and make your own decisions whether they prove to be right or wrong and learning from them.
It’s exciting and fun. We enjoy The Food Den – it gives us a buzz! And of course, we get to have a better work/life balance and extra family time.
And what’s the worst?
It’s hard thinking of the worst as we genuinely love all aspects of running our business! The fact that it is hard to switch off at the end of the day is probably the worst!
What words of advice would you have for people who are thinking about starting up their own businesses?
Firstly, be passionate about what you do – and enjoy the experience.
Secondly, give 110 per cent. Your business will ask a lot of you and you will have to give your all in order to reap the rewards.
Thirdly, make your business not only about making money but doing what you love. In our case it gets us extra family time, as well as running a business that we enjoy.
And finally, what’s next for The Food Den?
We have some exciting plans for the future – all of which will be revealed in due course! What we can say for sure is that we won’t stand still …. our business is always evolving.
The Food Den, 14 West Street, Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset, BS23 1JT.