March 2012

Moving the deck chairs

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The coffee machine arrives and is installed. It’s a two group Dalla Corte machine from Italy and looks the part in sleek black and stainless steel. Jim, the expert barista, arrives and spends a couple of hours training us in the basics of making coffee with the machine. He’s a good, no nonsense trainer who knows his stuff but gets it across without patronising or bamboozling us. At the end of the session we make our first lattes and cappuccinos successfully, albeit, incredibly slowly. We’ll improve with practice. We use the occasion to taste the blends of coffee we thought we might want to use. We decide on a five arabica bean Fairtrade blend with a good balance of flavour. We think the customers will like it.

Bill spends the weekend finishing off the counter area. He constructs and installs the high level platforms for the model train. We found some wrought iron brackets to support them. They are rom a Victorian pattern and wouldn’t look out of place on York station. Bill uses one of the photos he took when the walls were being constructed to work out where the timber supports run in the plasterboard wall, to ensure the heavy shelving won’t fall down. The train looks good in place. We’ve just got to work out a timing mechanism so it will run for a couple of minutes every half an hour. The trick will be ensuring it stops out of sight each time to preserve the surprise when it reappears through the tunnel the next time.

We programme our cash register which forces us to define our menu and set our prices. In addition to the usual calculator keys, the machine has 72 programmable keys which we will allocate to items on the menu. We programme each key with the name of an item and its price. We produce a paper overlay that sits on top of the keys, under a clear cover and we have our personalised till. The staff don’t have to remember prices, just press the correct key for each item. At the end of the day we’ll know how many we’ve sold of each to help with planning.

Emily road tests the coffee shop kitchen, which is now operational. She spends a weekend baking. The space is small but manageable. She produces an impressive array of cakes and, once again, the Portuguese custard tarts are a hit with everyone who tries them. She continues the task of finding local suppliers: of milk, of bread, of ice cream, eggs and tea. It’s great finding people who are committed to producing and supplying good quality local food.

We clear out the endless empty cardboard boxes, dust and clean the place and set out the tables and chairs for the first time. Our first configuration looks more like an auction saleroom than a coffee shop. We move an old desk out and try again. This time it works - enough space between the tables to circulate and a better overall effect. The place is starting to look something like the finished thing. We are still waiting on our pictures and prints to go on the walls; they’re with the framer at the moment. Bill finally assembles the row of theatre seats we bought from the Theatre Royal in Newcastle over a year ago when they auctioned them off. Reassembling them as free standing seating is tricky. The bases are heavy cast iron and some turn out to be unusable. He manages to sort out five (a row of four and a single) from the ones we bought. They’ll be our ‘sofa seating’ by the wood burning stove.

Now wash your hands


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The flat packs for the Coffee Shop kitchen arrive and we spend a weekend installing them. They are the basic plain white melamine units, ‘cheap as chips’ but look fine when installed. The most difficult part is cutting out the holes for sinks. The tops are 40mm thick and the jigsaw blade tends to wander away from the vertical. The surface line looks ok but it conceals a wavy line below. Most of the time this doesn’t matter as it’s hidden beneath the sink. We find it difficult to strike the balance between fitting in everything while not making the space too cramped. We think we’ve managed it but we won’t really be able to tell until we’ve worked in the space for a while.

Emily’s job adverts prompt some responses from a number of local school children and a couple of school leavers. We arrange to interview them next weekend. We like the idea of local young people being involved in the running of the place. In the meantime, we spend a day being trained in food hygiene - we’ll need to have our certificates on display, assuming we pass the exam at the end of the session. We’ve been added on to a course run for staff from a local ice cream manufacturer and the course takes place in a side room at the Whitby rifle club. It’s odd where you end up pursuing your dream. By the end of the session we’ve learned slightly more than we really want to know about all the horrible things that have happened in catering establishments, including ice-cream vans. We’re reassured that being a meat-free establishment we will sidestep quite a lot of the big cross-contamination risks, but are ready to impress on all our staff the need for high standards of personal hygiene. We take the test at the end of the session and both pass

Finally our new water connection is made. Yorkshire Water’s contractors turn up and are slightly non-plussed when they dig down and find not one but two mains pipes, one below the other. After some deliberation and calls back to HQ, they decide to go for the bottom one and, although slightly cloudy at first, we now have our own proper water supply with enough capacity to feed our fire sprinkler system. This was installed at great expense at the behest of building control because of the distance we are from the road. We hope we will never have to use it. Once the water supply is in, the piles of earth that have been cluttering the school yard and the path outside disappear and we can look forward to cleaning up the place. Our decorators are almost finished. They’ve had a difficult job painting alongside work being done. It’s been heartbreaking at times, seeing pristine painted surfaces subject to knocks and bumps almost as soon as they’re done.

Bill makes a bench with shelves, storage and coat hooks in the entrance hall. We model it on one we got used to using in one of the places we rented after we sold our Wotton house. It’s great having somewhere to pull boots on (or off) and hang up coats and all the paraphernalia associated with country walks. He also fits out the utility room with a sink, worktop, shelves and a clothes airer. You forget about all this stuff once it’s in place but it all needs setting up. We take a trip to an electrical goods retailer in Scarborough and come away having bought three fridges, two freezers and a dishwasher. Once they’re installed, and the sinks (five of them) and the ovens wired up we’ll be almost ready to go.

Our Coffee machine supplier visits us to survey the location for the machine. What we have planned should work and we place the order for the machine. We imagine a bunch of Italian engineers drinking espressos before picking up their tools to start assembling our machine. It should be delivered and installed in a couple of weeks. Then we’ll learn how to use it, including ‘polishing the milk’ (who knew?) and making those feather and heart shapes in the foam.

We have decided we’ll need to delay our opening until after Easter. There’s just too much to do to be ready to trade when the holiday starts. We don’t want to ‘go off at half-cock’ and mess things up. We have already arranged a formal opening with children and teachers from Egton school on the 20th of April. We’ll open our doors on the Monday before that.

We start making connections with local suppliers of eggs, milk and the other basics we need. Where possible we’ll be sourcing things locally. Generally, the people we’re meeting are very friendly and helpful. It gives us a sense we are becoming part of the community.

Emily branches out on the piano. Her repertoire ranges from Beethoven to Dylan (the latter via Adele). Bill learns how to make doors out of match boarding.


Getting real

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The Iroko wood worktops for the servery arrive. Chris and Derek fit them in a day. We will seal them with danish oil before using them. We can now get our coffee machine supplier to visit and carry out a survey before installing the machine.

We arrange to call in and see Bill’s cousin and her husband who have been running an art gallery and tea shop in a converted old school for the last eighteen months. We want to pick their brains and get their ‘top tips’ after their first year of operation. What they tell us is both reassuring and scary. Reassuring because it reinforces some of the ideas we’ve had: the importance of engaging with customers, for example. But scary because it brings home the amount of things we need to sort out before opening as well as the scale of the work involved in the day-to-day running. We decide we need to get some staff in from the start and Emily drafts some job descriptions aimed at school age young people for help at the weekends.

We have been encouraged to go for a simpler built-in commercial kitchen than we had originally envisaged by seeing Bill’s cousin’s. We make yet another trip up to Ikea and, after a couple of intensive hours, Bill’s proposed design has been converted into a list of items, including two ovens, which will be delivered in about ten days’ time. We have managed to fit in all the equipment we think we will need into the space along the two outside walls of the kitchen. We want to maximise the circulation space in the kitchen to make it easy to use and work in.

We also pick up some shelving to allow us to complete the bunk room. We’re installing the TV in there. We can use it as a cosy TV room out of the season and our young helpers can relax in it after a day’s work in the coffee shop. It’s great to find places for the children’s books we have had in storage for so long.

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The decorators continue their work in the coffee shop and, on an unseasonably mild February day, make a start on the outside painting. The dwelling is more or less finished and we decide it’s time to invite some of our Grosmont neighbours to come in and see the place from the inside. They have had to put up with sneak peeks through the windows, by the path, for a long time. Showing them around is fun and it’s interesting finding out more about what goes on in the village. One of our guests works in the Co-op - the village shop and the oldest independent co-op in the country. A visitor who had arrived on the steam train asked her: “Is this a real shop and is this a real village?” Presumably wondering if Grosmont was only an elaborate TV set for a 1950s soap opera.

The man we have employed to put in our new water pipe connection to the mains arrives with his mini-digger. His day job is running a farm with beef cattle in the next valley. He very quickly digs the trench and lays the large diameter plastic pipe down the hill to our property line. We need to wait now for Yorkshire Water’s own contractors to make the connection to the mains before swapping over our existing temporary supply by the door to the coffee shop.

The piano tuner arrives to tune the grand piano we bought at auction. He tells us it was made in 1912 and is in reasonably good condition. Emily aims to play each day.