How does it feel to be named one of Management Today’s “40 over 40”?
It was a huge surprise to be listed and I’m so humbled to be named alongside some real big hitters. We have a great team at the café and I am so pleased with what we have achieved together. I think some of the personal challenges I have had to overcome played a big part in me making the list. Running your own business is a real balancing act and no matter what is going on in your personal life you’ve got to maintain professionalism and persevere through thick and thin. When it comes to running a business – there are always decisions to be made, staff to look after, standards to uphold and customers to keep happy regardless of what you are going through as the buck quite literally stops with you.
Why did you take the plunge to open The Real Food Cafe?
I was approaching 40, and keen to start my own business. At the time I was the Managing Director of Corney and Barrow in the City of London and was initially thinking about opening my own pub in the capital, but was becoming disheartened as I really struggled to find a suitable site. Then, by chance, I saw an advert for a Little Chef for sale in Scotland. My husband, Steve and I had walked the West Highland Way that summer so we were familiar with the area. On a whim I flew up to have a look. It was derelict and pretty sad and I just thought – I can do better than this! We made the decision in September 2004 and by April the following year we were open.
What was your biggest break?
Meeting my partner Alan is probably one of them. My husband Steve died shortly after we opened the café and I was really struggling to run the business alone and come to terms with his death, I needed support, both for the business and emotionally which he was able to provide. Alan is also a business coach, so he has become my mentor and works on the backend of the business and to develop our team. We’ve also had some wonderful press, Sheila Dillon from the BBC’s Food Programme visited the café at the end of 2005 and Tam Cowan’s Daily Record and Scottish Sun reviews have been really powerful in promoting the venue. In addition, we’ve won two national fish and chip awards to date.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
I enjoy meeting people. Ensuring our customers are all satisfied and happy, which turns them into loyal guests. You meet such a selection of people here, from all across the world. It may be a remote location, but it feels very cosmopolitan. It’s not just customers, I enjoy seeing the staff develop as well; I’m coaching two of our junior managers through their SVQ Level 3 at the moment. It’s fantastic to see them gain confidence and develop new skills.
What do you least enjoy?
About the 40 over 40:
Management Today, together with Vauxhall Motors has published a report into the career changes of Generation X. The report highlights the fact that it’s never too late to take the leap, and it’s not just the millennials who can make these exciting life changes. To create awareness about this, Vauxhall have put together a list together of 40 people over the age of 40 who had a significant career change.