#LearningCurve | Bay eatery thrives with right blend

Heritage Café owner out to build a legacy on city’s Constitution Hill with motley crew of talented individuals by his side

From a sous chef who couldn’t fry an egg to an owner who stopped working for years to do charity work, the staff at Central restaurant Heritage Café have blended their unique qualities to grow a successful business.
Owner Willie Boucher said he has learnt that creating a family environment has given the company a new edge. Can you give me some background on yourself and how and when you started the business?
Heritage Café evolved as an answer to a demand from the community. Back in June 2017, we parked our coffee trailer in Constitution Hill every morning before we went off to work.People were wanting a place to gather – not just a place to get coffee and go off.
The developer of Donkin Village suggested we move our coffee machine inside an empty building at the bottom of Constitution Hill.
So we did . . . and as people gathered for coffee, they started to ask why we didn’t have food for them – especially when they had meetings with clients.
Someone introduced us to a chef who had been abroad in the UK for the past 20 years and had come back to PE to start his own business making – and delivering – gourmet sandwiches.
With the listeriosis outbreak, his business had taken a massive blow – even though the meat he used was not processed, but fresh.
We began a conversation with him about the idea of starting a small kitchen in our coffee shop.
After a month or two of brainstorming, we decided to go for it.
In April, 2018 we launched the full menu at Heritage Café. And ever since, we have been striving to provide the best quality coffee, service and food in PE at a reasonable price.
Where was the idea born?
The idea was born between one individual – the property developer – wanting to cater for his tenants by establishing a coffee shop and a previous restaurateur seeing an opportunity to give the developer what he envisioned.
What makes your business unique?
We joke that we are a band of misfits – our chef trained and worked in the UK for 20+ years, our sous chef couldn’t even fry an egg when he started.
Our manager has such a passion for giving the customers an experience they remember, that he has developed his own following of customers. Our owner has owned and run five restaurants, but had stepped out of the game to work for a charity for six years.
We all work well together and share the same vision.
If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?
They would have to start with placing people into a position where they can be passionate about what they do and giving them a healthy amount of creative freedom.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before even getting off the ground?
We struggle the most with location and the stigma that comes with it.
We are a bit off the beaten path for those who go out regularly for coffee and food – so we have to make ourselves a destination. What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?
We are fortunate to be well supported by our community in Donkin Village during the week.
So our focus is to put ourselves on the map for the rest of Port Elizabeth.
What is the best advice anyone ever gave you about success?
Do not do it for the money.
How do you measure or define success in your business?
We feel the most accomplished when we are able to pay those who work for us and they are happy to be in the positions they are in.
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?
We have gone against the grain of almost all business models and we get involved in our team’s lives. We don’t tell them to leave their worries at home. If they have a bad day, we want them to tell us about it and we want to be able to encourage them.
We keep it professional for our customers but create a family atmosphere for our team.
What kind of advertising do you do?
One creative does all of our media. Nick Beswick takes our photos, does our posts and maintains our media presence on Instagram and Facebook.
What are some of your highlights in running your business?
One of our personal highlights happened when one of our staff members came to us saying he was offered another position with an increase in pay (an increase we could not afford at the time).
We told him he needed to do what was best for him – but he said he never wanted to leave us.
How many people do you employ?
We employ six people.
Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this?
We do not have plans to expand. We would rather invest our energy in improving what we are already doing or hosting events to bring feet to the lovely Donkin Village area.
How did you acquire funding for the business?
We started small – with the bare minimum – and grew with the demand.
Once you had funding, what was the first step in actually launching the business?
We relied on different individuals and their expertise – we did not pretend to know everything. So we partnered with people who had experience and passion in their departments.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your business journey so far?
Don’t let the bad days affect you so much that you forget the good days.
What has been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?
PE has a great small community. So our trick has been patient in letting word-of-mouth be our reputation-builder.
How important has mentorship been to you in your journey as entrepreneur?
It has been extremely important – but I have to say that the majority of my lessons have been trial-and-error and a few bumps along the way.
What do you think are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur? Vision Consistency
Patience How do you motivate staff?
I try to motivate my staff by encouraging them to see the bigger picture – that we are giving the city something it can’t find somewhere else – not because of what I, as the owner, am busy doing, but what those who are working in their area of passion are doing...

This article is reserved for registered HeraldLIVE readers.

Simply register at no cost to proceed. If you've already registered, simply sign in.

Already registered on DispatchLIVE, BusinessLIVE, TimesLIVE or SowetanLIVE? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@heraldlive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.