Light sponge. Fruit crumble. Rich chocolate tart. The scent of freshly baked treats can often be detected emanating from Bramble Bakehouse kitchen, hidden away on a Guiseley side street.
After getting ‘the itch’ over two years ago while teaching in college, keen baker Joanne Adams knew that whether or not she could eventually turn her passion into a viable business, she at least had to give it her best shot. “Over my time teaching, I managed to acquire the help of the kind of people you need to open up a cafe. I got everyone on task and went ahead to create a vision of something that would support the community. There are a few long-standing places around that do breakfast/lunch, but we wanted to focus more on the coffee and cake.”
"Be a friend to your customers. Build long-lasting relationships."
Joanne and her team looked at various towns in the vicinity such as Ilkley and Bingley but kept coming back to Guiseley, which she believes offers more than meets the eye: “I didn’t realise the masses of things that go on in this community that nobody is aware of. Groups like Codswallop who run activities in theatre, music and art are extremely passionate people who are keen to support the local area.” While there are many outlets in the area for people to visit for food and drink, Bramble Bakehouse is much more community-orientated. “We have local artists who host workshops here, and we exhibit local artwork downstairs. There’s also a cabinet full of gifts provided by local people."
Before the business started, Joanne and her sisters sat down together: “We asked ourselves ‘What would WE want from a place like this?’” They all own dogs and her sisters have children so the ideas for being a dog- and baby-friendly establishment came naturally. As a fan of Wes Anderson, the walls were painted in blue and purple shades inspired by the director’s 2012 film Moonrise Kingdom. A creative theme is maintained downstairs, where the bakehouse exhibits different artworks every month, from painting to photography. “The local camera club had an exhibition here recently. We find the art for downstairs through our customers and word of mouth.”
Even after two years of being in business, there are plenty of people who still aren’t aware of the cafe and are still discovering it for the first time. That said, a strong base of loyal regulars make up the numbers, some of which are almost daily visitors, along with a wide mix of locals. “We’ve tended not to see many young people but have recently started seeing girls from the local schools coming in and having a coffee and a chat”, says Joanne. “On some days the cafe is full of men doing work on their laptops and on others we have mums with babies meeting their friends.”
Q: If you could employ one person to work for your company, who would you choose?
A: Well, I’ve got to say Mary Berry, haven’t I?!
One challenge with such a range of customers is to fulfil everyone’s expectations, but the Bramble Bakehouse team don’t seem to have that problem: “Our customers are very vocal and they tell us exactly what they want. We often get requests for certain cakes but that’s fine as I can bake them myself.” A positive effect on the business has been the more widespread uptake of general coffee culture - one recent related development being McDonald’s jumping on the flat white bandwagon, perhaps a benchmark for the drink's acceptance as a staple of the coffee menu. “We certainly don’t have to explain the differences between the various coffees as much as we used to.”
Since opening, she has been pleasantly surprised by how they’ve always managed to get things right with their customers. “We’ve changed our opening hours a bit, deciding to serve people on Wednesdays when we used to be closed. We’ve also recently started opening at 9am on a few weekdays in response to demand.” For her, the main aim is to make use of their on-site space to increase their community activities: “There’s a theatre group that comes in weekly and jewellery making workshops now and again but we just want to make better use of the great space upstairs.”
Q: Describe Bramble Bakehouse in three words?
A: Friendliness, cake, community.
From Joanne’s perspective, the main priority in terms of making a success of the events side of the cafe is to find customers who can participate to a greater degree and even take a lead. “I don’t think I realised just how time-consuming running a cafe would actually be, especially since I bake all the cakes and work here most days so organising additional events can get quite stressful. I’d love something like a book club but I suppose it’s about finding the right people who’d be interested.”
As far as customer engagement online goes, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts are published a few times a week but, being a relatively small operation, social media strategy can sometimes fall by the wayside when times are busy. In addition to this, Bramble Bakehouse is on Tripadvisor as the most appropriate platform in terms of leaving reviews and giving potential customers an idea of what to expect and why to visit. Ultimately, however, traditional word of mouth still performs as both an important awareness tool and the source of many a recommendation.
“I feel like 99% of the time, our customers are happy”, states Joanne. “We truly listen to customer feedback and are always willing to listen to suggestions for improvements. We’re very open with them and invite honest feedback.” Success for the team could be distilled simply into customers having a smile on their face and staff enjoying and embracing their roles - and more fool the person who doesn’t respond positively to a counter full of cakes…
Being a part of the coffee chain unavoidably means being lumped in the same category as the ‘big boys’ like Costa and Starbucks, but for Joanne, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “While it sometimes feels like they’re taking over the world, those companies have helped the industry become so popular and have introduced a lot of things to it that many independent cafes now use as commonplace."
One aspect of running a small business is, understandably, the owner’s susceptibility to get wrapped up in developments. “It’s easy to forget what I’ve achieved when it’s so busy and hectic and sometimes I have to sit myself down and tell myself what an achievement it is. I love making people happy and I think that’s why I’ve always enjoyed baking because the easiest way to make people happy is by giving them cake!”
Q: If you weren’t running your business, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
A: I don’t have a clue! Maybe I’d be working with community theatre companies and art groups since I taught drama at the college. Something in education I suppose, so this is very different!
All cakes and soup are made on site, and bread is sourced from a bakery down the road in Otley; in fact, Joanne’s confidence in her self-made products means she’s now looking to take the leap and delegate some of the production - and, clearly, her passion - by showing her recipes to Saturday staff and training them to bake her speciality cakes.
Joanne’s overall outlook is based on openness and accessibility. “I’m always at the cafe so I am here if customers ever need to speak to me. I think it’s important to be a friend to them, to build lasting relationships. I’ve even made some life-long friends through working here, people who now form part of my social group outside of work.”
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