Every Business has a Story
Our first "Every Product Has a Story" blog post was originally going to feature Candice Robertson of Candi's Chutney, before realising it was probably best to kick things off with our story. We pushed Candice back a week (apologies to you) and kicking things off with our story.... and how "Every Small Business has a Story"
Back in August 2013 my wife and I made an offer on what would become The Norfolk Deli. In preparation for the move we travelled up to Norfolk from West Berkshire (where we lived) to the North Norfolk Food & Drink festival, held annually in the grounds of Holkham Hall to meet local Norfolk producers, We wanted to introduce ourselves, outline our plans for the deli & of course buy some of their produce. It would be fair to say that there was an element of scepticism from some, but our story probably wasn't new and this is something they may have heard many times from people like us with fanciful ideas of opening a delicatessen only for nothing to happen.
However at approximately 2pm on 3rd January 2014 my wife and I took over the business we had bought, and within a few days we changed the name and sorted out loose ends. By the end of the first month we were beginning to feel at home although by the end of our first month I'd taken a 2 inch slice off my finger & thumb when not realising the meat slicer hadn't been switched off and i thought it would be a good idea to clean it. Fortunately my first (and to date only personal) encounter with QEH resulted in the skin being restuck and suffice to say the fingers survived. In our first year we were everyday keeping the door wide open no matter how cold it was. By the end of year one we sat back contented by the fact that in our first year of business we'd managed to double the best year's turnover of our predecessors. We guessed we must be doing something right.
In the seven years which have passed the deli has won numerous awards and our annual turnover is approximately 4 times what it was in year one. The success of our sandwiches and salad offerings were such that when the opportunity arose in 2019 to take over a cafe two doors away we took the chance and what had been a business of 2 people is now a business of 4 1/2 as our son & partner have responsibility for the Cafe and one of our daughters makes and bakes all the sweet treats we provide in the cafe.
We do as much as we possibly can in-house. The cost of getting other people to make things for you eats into margins and turns something which could help the business make a profit and therefore survive into a business which is constantly struggling to remain financially sound. This is why as my wife puts it "if it isn't wrapped or in a jar" we probably make it.
The same can be said about all other aspects of our business. Having worked for a variety of IT companies I have built a number of websites for people (just for fun) and was determined that we had to have a website that would be a revenue generator and not what I would describe as a brochuresite. I've always felt that a web site needs to do more than inform visitors.
- Who we are,
- What we do,
- Where we are.
Some may think it luck, others foresight & hard work but when lockdown started on 23rd March 2020 the website became our main source of income. Not only did it mean we would stay in business but it also ensured that we could carry on placing business with our local suppliers and therefore put money into their bank accounts which were not seeing the income they would normally get from the weekly farmer's markets which had all closed.
So what is "Every Product Has a Story?"
We live and work in a small North/West Norfolk Seaside resort. There's only approximately 4,000 people who live here and yet there are 3 supermarkets and at least 2 convenience stores. To survive we knew that everything we sold would have to be unavailable in supermarkets. We needed to work with those small local producers who make produce, using locally sourced ingredients. The products people would discover when visiting a farmers market. The Norfolk Deli is effectively a bridge between a farmers market and a supermarket, we enable suppliers who are too small to sell to or be of any interest to the supermarkets but who would like to sell more than they could by just attending markets. Shops like ours and our website offer our suppliers access to a wider market.
The purpose of the "Every Product has a Story" program is to share the stories of the people who make the products on our shelves. Over the coming months we will share the stories of chutney makers, jam makers, cheese makers, gin makers etc etc At the heart of each story are a series of questions we asked our suppliers during lockdown. We wanted to give our customers a small insight into who it is that makes the products we sell and how different it is to discover that behind a Rocketship Sauce, or an Archangel Gin there are real people who gave up an office job to dedicate themselves to making the best product they could compared to a name made up by a marketing department at one of the large corporate food producers.
The supplier questions will start next week. This week we're asking Mark of the Norfolk Deli to answer our questions.
What was your first job?
The first job I had was in hospitality. My father was the restaurant/catering manager at The Curzon House Club in Mayfair during the late 1960/70's. To earn some money I used to cycle about 30 minutes from where I lived along The Fulham Road, through Knightsbridge, past Harrods & Harvey Nicks, around Hyde Park Corner past what was at that time The Playboy Club and to Curzon Street. Initially I washed glasses (pre-dishwasher days) where greek, italian, spanish and hungarian waiters educated me so that I could swear fluently in several languages. I then became a wine commis where my knowledge of high quality wines was developed before I then followed my Father over to Aspinals in Sloane street when where I spent 10 whole weeks working all the shifts I could get as a wine waiter and making cocktails for guests.
When and why did you start your business?
The desire to own and run a food business had been going round my head for about 10 years prior to making the jump out of corporate life and back into food.I had worked in sales & marketing for a wide variety of IT companies including one I started with friends where we launched new technologies into the UK market. My wife (who grew up in Norfolk) had a salmon like desire to go back, and our children had all completed their education years, so we thought let's do this while we're just about young enough to do so. We scoured the region for something which would appeal to us which is how we came to be in Hunstanton. It was the perfect compromise, we wanted to live near the sea, but couldn't afford to do so without working.
Seeing that you've been in business for a number of years, what's the best advice you've ever had?
Always ask yourself, "If i spend money on this, what would be my ROI (return on investment?" If it doesn't make you money. Don't do it.
What's the worst advice you've ever had?
When you're an owner of a Deli there's a never ending stream of advice on offer. We've had advice on what we should and shouldn't sell on more than one occasion. Let's just say that had the advisor thought it through they would have realised that it wouldn't have passed the test of the "best advice" I was given. Would we make a return on the investment it would take to implement it. More often than not it's a resounding "No".
What advice would you give to a start up food business?
This has been the hardest thing l have ever done, emotionally and physically but it is also the best! Be prepared for long hours, hard work, little money and the best of times.
Do you have a favourite gadget and if so what it is?
I started working by accident but it was the perfect job for me (at the time) as I was fascinated by computers, software etc. When working in customer support I ran training courses on how to use software programs that have long since gone. I'm a real sucker for a gadgets and will spend money on things i don't really want or need, just because i think they're cool. However, I guess my favourite gadget is my iPhone. It is several hundred (if not thousand) times more powerful than any personal computers I started playing with in 1983. The thought that it would be possible to carry so much information, take pictures, listen to music, phone people or communicate around the world in a blink of an eye would have been science fiction back in the early 1980's. My iPhone is used for almost everything, I take all the picture for our website & social media on it and we even keep tabs of online orders on our phone. There are so many apps some of which such as the dog tracking app has been a godsend for tracking where Mr Speedy Deli dog is on our regular walks.
What makes Norfolk special to you?
It's a sense of space, peace and freedom. I grew up smack bang in the middle of Chelsea. In between the Kings Road & Fulham Road. There was rarely if ever zero traffic noise which is not the case here. I can go for walks and not see anybody for hours allowing me to plan our next big thing. Norfolk is also unlike common folk-law not flat, it is incredibly beautiful, made even more so by the fact that lots of people still think it to be flat and featureless. Shhhh ! let's not tell anybody that that's not true.
Using your own products, what's your favourite recipe?
When working in the world of corporate sales, grabbing lunch on the move would mean a sandwich or something similar and yet I would look at most sandwiches on sale and couldn't bring myself to buy something which frankly would only disappoint me . Using the products I have available to me in the Deli allowed me to create for our customers the type of sandwiches I would eat. This means, good quality bread, but most of all plenty of tasty, flavoursome filling. We make what are called Deli Sandwiches, you know what I mean, when a supermarket wants to add an extra ingredient beyond the cheese & chutney it becomes a deli sandwich. In my world ham and cheese sandwiches simply don't exist, ham and cheese are ingredients, but minor players in a sandwich which may have 5 - 7 different elements to it. One of my favourites i created over the past 2 years has been one for those following a plant based diet. The Vego Ego. If I were to say that the ingredients include, nut butter, a chilli & mango chutney, red onions, spinach leaves and avocado some may think it weird, but it's a firm favourite of everybody who's tasted it so far.
Favourite place to eat?
So many places could go on this list. It all depends on what's the occasion and what we fancy eating, but in no particular order
- Eric's Fish & Chips
- The White Horse in Brancaster Staithe.
- Brick Pizza in Norwich
- Jive Kitchen(Mexican) in Norwich
- Benedicts in Norwich
- Socious - Burnham Market
- Bibendum - London
Name one place in Norfolk people should visit?
Naturally enough I'm going to say everybody should visit us. It doesn't matter whether it is the Deli, the Cafe or our website, I think there's something for everyone and what's more it helps support other small businesses in and around Norfolk. I think people won't appreciate that when they visit Norfolk, they'll see more of it that we do. One of us (if not both of us) are in the shop 7 days a week. By the time we've closed we're too shattered to go exploring. However whilst Holkham Beach is on many people's list (and it is wonderful) for us we prefer the beach which starts at the end of the Hunstanton promenade in in the direction of Holme-Next-the-Sea. There's something for everybody. There are the tri-color cliffs, rock pools and further along a wide expanse of beach which compared to many locations can be totally empty. My personal favourite times are the early morning DeliDog walk at 5am or during the winter even when it's raining when the dogs and i have the beach entirely to ourselves. It gives me great thinking time and where i come up with all our business ideas.
And finally are you a Dog or Cat person?
We have 4 cats and 3 dogs although by the time we've posted this we'll have added an Airedale puppy to the throng. So our loyalties are split in equal measures.
Next week we'll be introducing our suppliers to you on a weekly basis starting from Candice Roberson from Candi's Chutney.