The Indie Series: A Q&A with Ben Evans, co-owner of Cake Stories

Tell us about Cake Stories

Cake Stories is family run Coffee House & Cakery based in Jesmond. We bake all our own cakes and treats in our micro craft bakery at Hypoint in Gateshead. The business has just turned five and we’re really proud to be an established part of the great Newcastle food and drink scene.

Pre-covid we opened seven days a week until 9.30pm offering a warm welcome for all people of all ages. Our aim as a coffee shop is to make sure people feel better for having visited Cake Stories. We want visiting cake stories to be a positive experience across all aspects of the experience – the welcome, the smile from the staff, the service, the environment and of course the great cake and coffee!

Over the last 12 months we have started to  provide cakes and tray-bakes to some of the best coffee shops, cafes and restaurants in the north east – which is an absolute pleasure and privilege and a service we aim to grow over the coming months.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running an independent business in the region?

The most rewarding aspect of running an independent business in the region is the community and the people we get to engage with everyday. When we opened cake stories in 2015 we always wanted to be a part of the community, and as we have established ourselves the relationships we have made with the regulars, the local schools, business and residents nearby has been fantastic. One of the benefits of being an independent is you can keep the personal touch in terms of service and caring, and the great people of the North East seem to really appreciate that.

And the most challenging?

Every challenge is an opportunity to develop, improve and grow. The challenge we face right now is to adjust to a post-lockdown world. Margins in the coffee and cake world are small, and so many businesses like ours rely on maximising the space available. In a world of social distancing this means we have the opportunity to come up with some creative, alternative ways to serve our customers and community.

What are the short and long-term plans for the business?

Prior to lockdown we were about to launch a second coffee shop in Newcastle. That has been put on hold until we have a clearer idea of what the post lockdown-world looks like, but we expect that to be the first of several new sites in key areas across the north east over the next three years.

As well as growing our number of wholesale clients, we will shortly be launching our first postal product which will enable us to distribute Cake Stories bakes nationwide. This will be a new revenue stream for us and one that we will be focused on to grow with the aim of becoming the go-to place for buying cakes and tray bakes online.

What advice would you give to anyone with a business idea?

Some ideas are rubbish, but a lot of ideas are great – the only way to know for sure is to give it a go. There is always a reason not to get started, so have an idea that inspires you to get started and commit. Once started, make connections with quality people to guide you. Those little bits of advice and half conversations with other people who have trodden the entrepreneurial path will be some of the most challenging, inspiring and encouraging you’ll have.

How has your business been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

It’s been a tricky time! In March every day we were making a new plan about how to adjust, comply with guidance, protect staff and customers etc. Then our supply chains started to falter as the great flour shortage hit, and our wholesale business disappeared as the people we were supplying closed prior to lockdown. When lockdown came and we closed all operations – in terms of the business it was a relief to take a step back, reassess and make a plan that wasn’t so reactionary. We had to furlough all of our staff but are now gradually bringing them back, which is great.

Have you adapted your service in light of these challenges?

We had to find new ways of trading so after a few weeks of lockdown we launched an e-commerce website offering local delivery via zero emissions courier ZMove. This was extremely well supported by customers both old and new. Once government guidance allowed we added a click and collect service and in late May we installed a takeaway kiosk in our Coffee Shop and Cakery in Jesmond. We have focused on ensuring our staff and customers are safe, being strict and clear with contactless drop offs, separated working in our shop and bakehouse and a clear one way social distance queuing system at the shop. So far it is going great, but we are still planning how to improve and adapt further as we transition out of lockdown.

Cake Stories