By Carly Trisk-Grove
BEng Manufacturing Engineering, Business and French alumnus
After graduating with a degree in Manufacturing Engineering, Business and French at the University of Birmingham, I soon joined Ernst & Young (E&Y) in their entrepreneurial team, and was shortly after offered a position within their global expansion team.
I spent three years with E&Y before leaving in 2003 to have a baby. Whilst at home doing the stay-at-home parent bit, I wrote numerous business plans, as I was keen to find a role that would allow me to be a very present parent, but would also keep me motivated and give me the chance to keep learning.
Every business idea I came up with had a sustainability angle. Having led anti-animal cruelty campaigns at school from age 11 and turning vegan at 12, activism and a strong moral backbone were part of my make-up. As Ben & Jerry’s sum it up so eloquently in their brilliant book, How to Run a Values-Led Business and Make Money, Too, I believed that there had to be a way I could do the same.
In 2005, whilst I was pregnant with my second child, I was looking for a venue where I could run a franchise of my favourite baby music class. I believed that I had found a way to be with my kids, make some money, and also do something that added value to people’s lives. I didn’t manage to find a venue, but I did find a park café in a hut with a tender deadline imminent. The opportunity had found me. My husband and I opened The Café in the Park from a small hut with no indoor seating in April 2005.
Setting up my sustainable business
My plan was always to serve good food at an affordable price. From the outset, I was determined to establish a set of rules by which we would run the café:
- Buy local supplies wherever possible;
- pay the living wage;
- offer opportunities to adults with learning difficulties;
- use green energy;
- buy only from farmers and producers with integrity;
- and create a menu that had more of a focus on vegetables than meat.
All great ideals. All perfectly achievable. But not without setbacks.
In 2009, having spent two years raising the funds and obtaining planning permission, we knocked down our little hut and built a two and a half thousand square foot timber-framed building so that we could be open year-round and serve customers inside as well as out.
Our inexperience, our early arrival to the sustainability cause, and the vulnerable nature of hospitality nearly led to our downfall on many occasions. In fact, we called it my ‘expensive hobby’ right up until around 2013 when, for the first time, we drew a salary!
In 2014 we became founder members of The Sustainable Restaurant Association, who employed a rating system based on three streams; people, environment and sustainability. We achieved their highest rating and a recognised accreditation. Suddenly, sustainability had become on-trend, and people were starting to understand what we were doing. Learning from the mistakes we had made up to this point, we were able to turn the business from a place of near closure to a profitable sale in 2019.
To note just a few of our achievements during our fourteen years; our story has been published in national press, we were runners up in many of the Observer Food Monthly Awards, and, for three years running, we were included in the Waitrose Good Food Guide. Recognised as industry leaders, we demonstrated that the best way to run a business is to run it sustainably. The very values that were nearly our downfall at the beginning ended up being what set us apart from our competitors in the end.
Sustainability had become mainstream. The tide had turned.
Whilst we enjoy a few months off from a very intense but wonderfully fun fourteen years of running our café we are working on new projects. Our new agency, Collabor-ate will offer support to the hospitality industry – sharing our knowledge on how to make practical, affordable and profitable choices, all of which have a focus on being sustainable, but still making a profit.