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  • Notes from my holiday: three foodie brands serving the good stuff

    I’m just back from a week away in Suffolk. It was great to switch on my ‘out-of-office’ and head up the coast for a change in scenery, fresh air and (mostly) a WiFi free zone.

    One thing I love about Suffolk is its food scene. The county has an abundance of food suppliers, cafes, pubs and restaurants. There are small independent bakeries and vineyards alongside the more established brands such as Adnams, the business which powers the brewery, distillery, wine shops, pubs and hotels.

    My attention is inevitably drawn to the smaller brands: this is where the interesting stuff happens. I love hearing founders’ stories of how they turned their passions into a business.

    Here in Suffolk I found plenty of examples of small foodie brands who don’t simply serve the good stuff, but who are also driven by a strong purpose. And a purpose that feels genuine rather than merely a marketing slogan to stick up on a website.

    From my journey around Suffolk here are three brands that are worth watching:

     

    1. Pump Street Bakery. Famous for its hotel, long established oysterage and even longer-established castle, you won’t find much else here apart from a pub and general store. Now Orford is getting famous for something else. In a 15th century building on the village square lies Pump Street Bakery, started by father and daughter Chris and Joanna Brennan in 2010. When Chris retired from a job at IBM, he taught himself how to bake bread. Today he runs the bakery, whilst his daughter takes care of the shop and café. Not only do they serve up great bread, pastries and coffee - which you can enjoy around a large communal table - they have also built Pump Street upon some decent values. The bakery uses local flour and produce, they started a fund to support local community projects, they even give unsold bread to a family hostel in Ipswich. It’s the kind of place worth taking a detour to - the woman in front of me had come from Norwich just for the cakes. I told the kids we were going to Orford for the castle, but really it was for the coffee.
    2. Darsham Nurseries. On a stretch of the A12 between a petrol station and a railway level crossing is a left turn for Darsham Nurseries. In a ‘blink and you’d miss it’ spot, there’s not only a nursery for plants, but also a café and gift shop, selling everything from cacti to stationery. Whilst the menu has a middle eastern influence they still manage to grow most of the ingredients in their kitchen garden: lettuce, kale, chillies, greens and edible flowers. The project was started by Californian garden designer David Keleel in 2007 when he took over the then near-derelict premises. The café opened in 2014 and is currently run by head chef Lola DeMille. Recently it was honoured in the National Restaurant Awards, at number 80 in the 'Top 100 Restaurants in the UK'. Last week I spotted a beautiful summerhouse in the garden that’s available for private dining. It looks idyllic (picture above).
    3. Two Magpies Bakery. Four days last week we headed to Southwold beach where we soon established a routine. Whilst I set up basecamp on the sand with a picnic blanket and windbreak, my wife would head to the high street to pick up our fuel. Two Magpies Bakery wasn’t the closest coffee shop to the beach, but we knew from previous visits that their coffee was the best in town. It was started in 2012 by husband and wife Jim and Rebecca Bishop. Jim is a former bomb disposal expert who quit the British Army to learn to bake. Passionate about connecting people with great food, the Bishops have a busy cafe at the front of the premises with an artisan bakery at the back. Every day there was a long queue for the coffee, but it was worth the wait.


    It’s great to see indie brands and entrepreneurs thriving away from the big towns and cities, especially in a tougher market where consumers are watching their pennies. After all, these guys are competing on the quality of their produce rather than price. But it’s like my friend David Hieatt says: 'Quality' is a good business model...

  • A journey to west Wales: kicking off Snap Photography Festival

    “Aren’t there any venues like this closer to London?” asked a fellow speaker at the Snap Photography Festival earlier this week.

    He had a point. Fforest Camp on the west of Wales is a five-hour-plus drive from the capital, the last hour by narrow and winding country roads. My iPhone told me the 300 mile journey from Leigh-on-Sea would take five hours, actually it took seven hours.

    But whilst it’s hard to get there, you’re rewarded with a unique experience in a stunning setting. Fforest is designed as a place to enjoy “the simplicity, pleasures and beauty of outdoor living in an outstanding natural environment.” It sits on a 200 acre site by the River Teifi, next to the Teifi marshes nature reserve. So I answered: yes, the UK does have other venues closer to London, but this one is quite special. Perhaps like a lot of things in life, you have to put in the effort, but it’s worth it once you reach the destination.

    The only non-photographer speaker, I’d been invited to give the festival’s two hour opening presentation and workshop on storytelling and finding your fuel. I’ve spoken to different audiences over the years and it was a thrill to be amongst 110 photographers. Since being given my first Kodak Instamatic camera as a child, photography has been a thread throughout my life. It feels like I spent most of the 1980s glued to my Pentax K1000, taking it to live gigs and documenting the world around me. I’m still passionate about photography. Yesterday morning I took half an hour off and walked around Fforest with my Canon digital camera.

    Sharing tents and outdoor cabins with strangers is not for everyone (disclosure: I was staying in an Airbnb in the local village) but something special happens when attendees mix together. Although I stayed off site, I joined in the communal dining, and I loved sitting down at the next available seat and chatting to new people. As I’d told the audience in my presentation, I thrive on curiosity, going to interesting places and meeting interesting people. Here at Snap It felt like the ‘United Nations of Photographers’. I shared meals with a Canadian, Croatian, Hungarian and Italian. I took a tea break with a guy from Poland and a woman from Chicago.

    It was great to discover that people had travelled from all over the world to come to Snap. Suddenly a seven hour drive to get here didn’t feel so bad; especially when the guy from Poland told me his journey had taken three days.


    [photo credit Lee Allen/ Snap]

  • Doing one thing well - New York’s pencil store

    I’m fascinated by owner-run small businesses, especially in retail. I love to see what people’s passions are, what shops are viable, what niche makes commercial sense.

    I like stationery so I’m always drawn - excuse the pun - to stores selling pens and paper. When I was in New York last week, I headed to CW Pencils on the city’s Lower East Side. As the name suggests, this is a pencil shop. It doesn’t sell a range of notepads or pens. It sells pencils. Pencils from as far afield as India, pencils from as near as Jersey City.

    Founder Caroline Weaver - an amateur pencil collector but lifelong pencil lover -  told me whilst she always had a passion for pencils she admitted she wasn’t sure how popular her store would be, would it turn out to just be her sitting in the shop alone?

    But a year after launching, the shop is busy and she even has a team working for her selling online. It’s a great success!

    As I sat drinking coffee down the road in Café Henrie, I took out my new pencil and scribbled down a question, “What is it about CW Pencils that makes it a success?”

    I concluded there are a number of ingredients that make Caroline’s business idea work. First, the business is a mix of online and offline. That’s an obvious point, but with limited opening hours and an off-the-grid location, it’s important to reach a wider audience. Second, the founder is passionate about what she sells. She told me she’d always loved pencils, and what better foundation for a business than that. Third, she’s confident that selling just one thing - pencils - will be enough. Business advisors may have suggested she stocks books or other stationery items to make her shop more commercially viable. But that would have diluted her proposition; instead - by sticking to one thing - Caroline has a niche idea that stands out. She’s doing one thing well.

    As Caroline says on her site,  “as simple as it may be, the pencil is something which despite advances in technology will never become obsolete.”  Here’s to the power of pencils! 

     

     

  • Opening eyes to new possibilities. A day on a Fuel Safari...

    The Fuel Safari was everything I hoped it would be, and many things I hadn’t even considered might be possible. Without a shadow of a doubt, that was down to Ian, his approach and his ability to pick out details others overlook. I can see myself undertaking a Fuel Safari each year.

    Simon White, Formation London

     

    It’s ten thirty on a Thursday morning and I’m sitting on the steps of the Seven Dials monument in London’s Covent Garden. Takeaway coffees in hand, I’m here with Simon White. Ahead of us lies six hours of discovery: walking, talking and plotting. Welcome to Fuel Safari, my one-day session to rediscover your fuel.

    Fuel Safari is different from traditional coaching. I guess I’m an ‘AntiCoach’, I bring my passion, curiosity and outsider point-of-view to ask the right questions. The morning is about inputs, walking around Soho and Fitzrovia, asking questions, getting inspiration IN. The afternoon is about outputs, mapping the ‘what next?’, laying down the building blocks, getting inspiration OUT.

    Today’s client is the founder of Formation London. Formation London helps brands, agencies and organisations innovate, adapt and thrive. The company has had a good year, now Simon needs the fuel to lay the foundation stones for 2016.

    Much of my work is around storytelling and today’s Fuel Safari is no different: it’s about identifying and mapping a future story. Also my objective is to make sure that my clients are putting their real selves into their careers, work lives and businesses. That’s what I’m obsessive about: reconnecting people with their stories, purpose and passions. Making sure that the path ahead is aligned with who they are.

    Fuel Safari is a journey, taking executives, entrepreneurs and freelancers from where they are now to where they could be. I like to start the day here at Seven Dials, at this hub in the centre of seven ‘spokes’. Too often we are forced into making simplistic binary - yes-or-no - decisions in life. But life is more complex than that. There are often more than two options. Here at Seven Dials, we look around us and see seven routes going off in different directions. Which path shall we choose?

    We head north, taking the side streets; busy streets are no-go areas on my safaris. We’re away from the hustle and bustle, so we can slow down, follow our curiosity. Pausing to look at a piece of graffiti on Cleveland Street (“All the good things are wild and free”), stopping at a bench on Fitzroy Square. I have a rough plan for where we’re going, weaving through the alleyways and cut-throughs north of Oxford Street. At Margaret Street I give Simon a choice. “Do you want to go left or right?”

    “Straight on!” he replies.

    As we walk I’m asking questions, listening, noticing. Stopping to capture thoughts and ideas on a pack of Artefact cards in my pocket. And when we need our own fuel, we find a pit-stop. Today it’s Kaffeine in Eastcastle Street.

    After a stop on Carnaby Street for lunch, we grab a table at the Hospital Club and fan out this morning’s cards. Simon adds in his own suggestions and we’re away: building and mapping. Mapping the core proposition, ideas for new products, ways that his business can stand apart. Throughout the process I’m searching for alignment: is he bringing Simon - and what he stands for - to every fragment of the business? By 4pm Simon’s fuel tanks are full: he says we’ve opened up opportunities that he just wouldn’t have considered on his own.

    We’ve gone on a literal and metaphorical journey, on the move most of the day. Most of us get too busy to stand back from the day-to-day and ask why we do what we do. I listen, then connect the dots.

    If you’re looking for personality profiling, go and see a coach. But if you’re stuck at a crossroads, looking for way forward and need someone to help navigate your what next, come and see an AntiCoach (email hello@iansanders.com and we can arrange a conversation*).

    I’ll leave you with some more thoughts from Simon.

    Going on a Fuel Safari opened my eyes to possibilities that I had previously overlooked, as well as plenty of ideas and paths that had been hidden in the undergrowth that is modern life. Ian helped to strip away the complexity of things to expose some incredibly interesting thoughts. And he even managed to encapsulate what it is I do in with Formation London a simple, single-minded statement that resonates clearly with others.

    The follow-up exercise in the afternoon of mapping out those thoughts was so useful - a chance to discuss, pick apart and rebuild thinking as part of the open-minded approach Ian has devised. Not only did it demonstrate how I’d got to where I am, but it shone a light on the right places to go next.

    Best of all, I’m left with something I can draw upon for inspiration as I move into the year ahead - and beyond.”

     

    * Fuel Safaris cost £1,000 for the day. If you make a booking by the end of January 2016, pay just £500. Email hello@iansanders.com to start a conversation.

  • “A Berlin State of Mind”: my picks of the city

    Last week I spent two and a bit days in Berlin, my first trip to the city. Although my visit was primarily for pleasure, I soon realised this is a great city for working, and I’ve already added it to my list of favourite places to go to get fired up, the kind of place I might go to write my next book.

    In my short time in the city I found some great cafes and restaurants, most of which I stumbled upon (which is always the best way to discover a new city). So whether you’re going to the city for work or for pleasure, here are my Berlin picks:

    Coffee

    1. The Barn [Auguststraße 58, 10119 Berlin]: a tiny shop serving great coffee. That’s all you need to know.
    2. Ben Rahim [Hackesche Höfe, Sophien Strasse 7, Berlin]: I stumbled upon Ben’s shop at 5pm. Seeing a sign on the door that said they shut at five, I guessed I was too late for a coffee. But I was wrong. Ben couldn’t have been more welcoming, he’s only been open one month and with an attitude like that, he’ll go far. Check out his story here.

    Breakfast

    Hackescher Hof [Rosenthaler Str. 40/41, 10178 Berlin]: a simple, diner-style, all-day restaurant. Bacon and eggs, orange juice, a pot of tea with great service. A good place for a working breakfast or just to sit and read the papers.

    Lunch

    1. Barcomi’s [Sophie-Gips-Höfe, Sophienstraße 21, Berlin]: as well as hosting a deli and coffee counter, this hidden-away cafe serves bagels and salads. There’s some seating in the courtyard outside.
    2. Antipodes [Fehrbelliner Straße 5, 10119 Berlin]: a pavement A-board advertising Antipodes caught our eye so we followed a side street and discovered an awesome cafe run by a New Zealand couple. Great music, a stack of magazines, decent salads and a great long black. We felt at home instantly, I would go at least once a week if I could.

    Dinner

    1. Simon [Auguststraße 53, 10119 Berlin-Mitte]: It was a Monday evening when we stumbled upon this quiet neighbourhood restaurant. Initially we struggled with the German menu but then I recognised an Argentinian entrecote that went very nicely with a couple of glasses of red. Result.
    2. Strandbad Mitte [Kleine Hamburger Str. 16, 10117 Berlin]: I love this place. It’s everything a restaurant should be. Located down a short dead-end street I stumbled upon it one afternoon when it seemed to entice me over. I chatted with a waiter about gluten-free options on the menu; when I returned a few hours later the chef had prepared a three course gluten-free menu, just for me, just like that. Excellent food, great wines, decent prices, friendly service and a great vibe. I wish it was closer to home. I’ll be back.

    Magazines & books

    1. Do you read me? [Augustraße 28, 10117 Berlin]: this is a great magazine shop, I went twice in two days.
    2. Gestalten Space [Sophienstraße 21, 10178 Berlin]: a bookshop/ gift shop from the publishing company of the same name. If I didn’t have an Easyjet one-bag rule, I may have carried home a stack of their lovely books. Luckily you can buy them online.
    A beer in a deckchair

    Cafes beside Spree River in MonbijouPark [Mitte Berlin]: Having walked around town for a few hours, I wanted to sit in the sun. In this park there’s a bunch of cafes with deck chairs outside on the grass. Grab a chair, order a drink and watch the world go by.


    Enjoy!