Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What it's really like to run a cafe (sort of)...

It has been 19 months since I left my corporate career behind and 14 months since Mister Close was born.  I have never looked back, but I really miss my old life at times.  Don't get me wrong I love what I do, but the one thing I miss is security.  Some of my staff (often) ask me "are you ok" or "you look a little stressed".  The reason I do look like that is that I bloody am.  I am stressed and I am worried.  Everything about a small business is worrying and if you aren't worried then you shouldn't be in business (well you probably won't be in a year's time).  Now I am on this side of the fence I completely get it.  I kind of did from a hospitality point of view, but certianly not from someone who own a cafe.  It comes from all directions.  I work on the floor a lot.  I like working on the floor - it connects me with my customers, it re-affirms to me why I do what I do.  I love working on the floor and I love my business.

However when you own a cafe it is like you are twirling 100 plates or playing 28 different cow bells to ensure you deliver the perfect tune.  Not only am I constantly thinking if the staff are friendly enough, serving efficiently; but is the food quality up to scratch and is it being presented well. Who is watching both our doors, why are the customers waiting for their takeaway coffee for longer than 5 minutes, shit a piece of equipment isn't working, the Point of Sale is playing up, the website hasn't been updated, a staff member is sick, some dickface just annonomously slagged us off on Urbanspoon, but doesn't have the balls to reply to my heartfelt plea for more information so I can grow and improve my business.  Don't get me wrong - I love it, but this is just a tiny example of what can happen in my head in one hour.  Not forgetting the landlords still can't provide enough heat, catering needs to go out, someone stuffed up the bread order, our back door won't work, the internal grease trap needs emptying, someone didn't tell me we needed detergent (agghhhh), what on earth is the Chef serving up (oh, that's ok it's their lunch).  Are our food costs ok, are staff going home when we aren't busy, do we have enough staff when are busy all of a sudden and where the hell did those 20 people wanting a table just come from.  All the while you have to have this face that says "Hi, welcome to Mister Close".  Maybe I shouldn't be working front of house so much, but I kind of have to at the moment and again I love it.

I didn't have a manual, we are not a franchise with structures and procedures for every little situation, but I think working it out is the fun bit.  Every day is different and that is what makes hospitality so good - that and making people happy.  Yeah I really like that bit.  That is why I went into business. 

I also went into business to be part of the community.  Being part of the Melbourne International Film Festival and being part of Cafe Smart helping homeless people is just the start.  That stuff is cool. 

Strange, but no matter how much I thought I prepared myself I had no idea of the complexities of running a cafe.  No shit says anyone who owns a cafe.  Now, as a customer when I say hi to the owner of a cafe, I know exactly what is going through his or her head (unless they are pissed and then of course anything could be going through their head).

LOVE WHAT I DO...  but it is hard. 


  1. What a fabulous authentic blog. It takes great courage and great strength to carry on and believe what you are doing is right, even though in your head everything is falling apart!
    It also takes great humility to tell others that is what is happening it makes you wonderfully human.
    Congratulations to James and the team at Mr. Close for delivering authentic food in an authentic atmosphere. When I go out this is what I look for as it replicates those wonderful chaotic moments you share with your family and friends. Great food served up with a little chaos. Well done Mr. Close!

  2. This is such a great cafe. i have never had a bad meal and despite the stress levels of the team above i have always found your staff incredibly friendly and helpful.

  3. Venturing into any type of business is a serious thing. As the owner, you have to worry about everything, from the employees, products, and down to the very small details of the business. And running a café is just the same. It won’t be easy. But with proper planning and knowledge of its nature, you’ll be able to handle everything. And remember that you’re not alone there. You can have employees that will help you along the way. You just need great determination and courage to keep it going! ->Fresh & Healthy Brands