Sue and John Taylor are the owners and managers of The Cafe at 36 in Exeter. The aptly named Cafe is located at 36 Cowick Street, St Thomas, Exeter.
They bought the cafe as a going concern in the Autumn of 2010 and, following some refurbishment work, re-opened it on the 28th December 2010.
Prior to buying the cafe Sue and John had been a host family for the Globe English Centre, Exeter; introducing students from all over the world to our lovely part of the country.
Over the years they had often thought of starting a small business so when The Cafe at 36 came onto the market in July 2010 they thought why not? John was coming up to retirement age from his job with First Great Western as a Property Manager, and although Sue had some time still to work, they decided to go for it. John decided to retire and to take on the day to day running of the Cafe for a few years.
We have had an incredibly steep learning curve over the first 18 months, not only learning the catering business but also about employment issues, and all the regulations surrounding small businesses.
An Exeter Business
The Cafe was originally opened in 2006 and over the years has built up a following of loyal customers. Through their hard work and the quality of fare The Cafe at 36 is now a thriving business within St Thomas, Exeter and its reputation is growing.
Both John and Sue are local to St Thomas, Exeter. John is an Exonian born and bred, and Sue moved down from the South East in 1976 (the original drought year!).
Her mother was born in Cowick Lane but she grew up in Brixham before moving to Kent to be with her father.
John and Sue married in 1978 and moved into Old Vicarage Road, Exeter in 1979, the house that John’s family had lived in for many years.
A Complete Career Change
Having previously only worked in office based and managerial jobs, both John and Sue thought it was a great opportunity to do something totally different.
We love our Cafe, we love our food and drink and most of all we love our customers and the St Thomas Community. One of our main passions is offering handmade cakes that we have made ourselves on the premises, so that people can find something a bit different in our cafe. I love baking cakes and seem to have developed a knack for turning out a pretty good cheese scone which is now a firm favourite with our customers.
They also know that no matter how good people think their drinks and food are, their service needs to be even better. The staff need to be quick, friendly and able to maintain the highest quality standards. Values that customers have come to expect from The Café at 36.
A Local St Thomas Cafe
They believe they offer a very friendly, high quality service.
They know that many of their customers come to them because they care about the quality of their product and the service they provide.
We provide an environment that people feel comfortable in whether they have come in on their own, with friends or colleagues from work.
John and Sue have encouraged a number of local artists to display some of their work on the cafe walls. Customers seem to really enjoy it. They feel it’s like going into an art gallery without feeling pressured to buy a painting or be ultra –knowledgeable about what they are looking at. The paintings have also been known to generate passionate discussion about styles, influences and even their relative merits! But nothing to serious.
Take an excellent blend of coffee, a La Marzocca (the Ferrari of espresso machines) and baristas who actually know what they are doing and you get an excellent cup of coffee every time. They are also proud of the range of Teapigs teas that can be served hot or iced; however you prefer it.
It is also important to Sue and John that they use local food producers and suppliers wherever possible. They have a board inside telling customers what produce they use and where it is sourced. They then recycle as much of their waste as possible; coffee grinds make great compost!
Loving The South West
Both Sue and John just love Exeter and love living there. They feel so privileged to be living in such an amazing city with excellent shopping, plenty of green spaces and friendly people.
It’s so easy to walk around the city centre. At the same time, it’s easy to escape. Within half an hour you can be high on the moors or enjoying an ice-cream at the seaside. Sue especially loves the village of Belstone. Nestled in the foot hills of Dartmoor, it’s the perfect base for an adventure onto one of the largest wildernesses left in England.
The West Country is a great area from which to run a business although, with such a big change in lifestyle, it has had its challenges for them. The coffee business is very competitive, especially at a time of financial cut backs and austerity measures and they have had to be just that bit better to stay ahead of the pack.
Even in St Thomas there are a large number of cafes and pubs that offer food and multinational companies. A lot of focus is on the City Centre rather than the local neighbourhoods.
A sense of fun goes a long way too! John took a hand-bell to the Cafe on the opening day of the Olympics and stood outside at 08:12am ringing it as part of the national bell ringing event! This caused a few raised eyebrows!
Customers From Devon And Beyond!
Café at 36 get customers coming in from all over The country. They are still a host family for the Globe School, so they have connections with people from all over Europe, the Middle East and Asia. And they all pop in from time to time for a coffee and a catch up!
Even Ben Bradshaw, the local MP, comes in from time to time!
They are active on social media networks too; in particular Twitter and Facebook. Sue has found that Twitter has been amazing at spreading the word about Café at 36 and meeting some great new friends.
They also have a website www.cafeat36.co.uk; and have recently claimed their Cafe on Foursquare! But mostly customers come to them through word of mouth. People telling other people about a great place for a cup of coffee.