What’s next for Bill’s Cafes? Answers on a postcard please

As the sap is rising, the flowers are in bloom and the vegetables are growing, a cafe operator’s heart turns to new cafes.

Since I sold Café Below in May 2012 I’ve had a year without crises or huge challenges and it has been blissful. We’ve done all kinds of new little things at Michaelhouse and All Saints – new signage, great new beefburgers (blog to follow) and fishcakes (see previous blog entry) and other new recipes, free filtered tapwater at All Saints, an improved outside seating area at Michaelhouse, a new website in the pipeline – and I’ve had a much more relaxed life. More holidays, more time at home, more tennis, more cooking. Lots of good stuff.

But now I’m beginning to get itchy feet and I’m wondering: What’s next for Bill’s Cafes? I think that what we do at All Saints and Michaelhouse is really quite good and I think we could do it – or something similar – in some more locations. Masses of delicious food that’s genuinely home-made starring some unique local produce; served simply; at sensible prices. It’s a simplicity that isn’t that straightforward to achieve but we’ve become rather good at it.

So what should we do and where should we do it? And how should we do it?

One of my starting points is that I don’t want to spend my life travelling, so I’m especially keen to do new things that are within an hour’s drive of Hereford. That points to a relatively small number of towns: Gloucester, Cheltenham, Worcester, Ludlow, Monmouth – and maybe Malvern and Abergavenny.

What sort of site should we be looking for? To do the kind of thing that we do well with all the food made on site each day, we need a relatively large space. Both Michaelhouse and All Saints have seating for around 100 with extra seating outside and that kind of size works well for us. Ideally we’d like to have some extra space for comfy sofas as well as plenty of room for our kitchen and all the rest of the infrastructure that goes to make up a café: loos, storage, office, staff lockers etc etc.

It won’t have escaped your notice if you’re a regular customer at either of our current cafes that they are both in churches. These are wonderful places to operate in: we’re partners in great community enterprises located in extraordinarily beautiful buildings. However, I’m completely open to the idea of running future cafes in other buildings, whether in partnership with other organizations (such as theatres, cinemas, libraries or tourist information centres) or in more straightforward sites on the high street. Is there scope for a handful of our cafes in a string of towns up and down the Marches? I think it’s possible.

So, I’d love to hear from any of you who have got thoughts or suggestions about how we could do what we do in a few more places. Do you know a great site that we should be looking at? Do you know someone who would like to invest in an exciting new venture? Do you think I’m bonkers even to be thinking about all this? If we did have some cafes that were out in the big bad world of the High St what should we call them? What 2 or 3 words represent the heart of what we do?

Answers on a postcard or better still an email to: bill@billscafes.co.uk  And anyone who sends me truly exciting and fantastic answers definitely deserves a free lunch for two at whichever of our current cafes is nearer to you…