Café Fleur’s Lucy Piper on her journey from finance to food
When I look back at my time working at a currency brokers, I have no idea how I survived for as long as I did. Most days, I’d be hiding in the toilet, crying. I just wasn’t fulfilled and found the job so dull.
Something inside me clicked during a progress review meeting and I suddenly found myself telling my manager that I wanted to leave. He was totally shocked and suggested I go home to have a think. But my mind was made up. I spoke to my dad and he said: ‘it’s time for that café you’ve always dreamed of’.
I’d always wanted to own my very own business. Even at the age of three, I built a hotel in a bush in the garden and made my parents pay to come and visit! After quitting my job, my first venture was a street food stall in Camden Market with my brother, Pilch, who had just graduated.
We made posh sausage sandwiches. It was so much fun being out of an office environment, cycling to and from the stall with cool boxes hanging off the handlebars. I loved being my own boss. After a few months, I finally found my next venture – the café – in Wandsworth.
BUILDING ON UP
It was a greasy spoon builders’ café, not the place I’d imagined at all, but it was in a nice area. I bought Café Fleur with my savings and spent £500 renovating it. I couldn’t afford a full refit, so I bought everything off the owner and recycled the furniture. It took just a week from the date he sold it to me to opening day.
Café Fleur wasn’t to everyone’s taste but I gained loads of new customers interested in the healthy organic angle I’d introduced. Some of the regulars would come in for a full English and I’d give them avocado on toast instead!
EMPIRE OF THE BUN
The first six months was hard work. I’d leave home at 5am and finish at 8pm, then do the accounts in the evening.
Three years on and in profit, I love what I do. I feel like a different person now that I’m not clock-watching.
FIND YOUR BALANCE
Have the drive
Discipline is the main quality you need. I wasn’t focused on making money, I wanted customers to be happy, the food to be good and to have a place I was proud of. Profit was a by-product of that.
Be a people person
You need to get on with everyone and have a lot of patience!
Don’t sweat the small stuff
At first I was stressing over everything, like giving people three napkins instead of one – always thinking about the margins. But, ultimately, it’s not that important.
You can’t please everyone
Don’t listen to other people’s advice – no one knows your vision better than you.