We chatted with our client Anna Tobias, who is the owner of Cafe Deco in Bloomsbury. She has worked in some of the UK's most respected kitchens - Blueprint Cafe with Jeremy Lee, River Cafe and as head chef at Rochelle Canteen, before opening Cafe Deco in Fitzrovia in November 2020, with the team behind 40 Maltby St as business partners.
Despite opening in the midst of a pandemic and its surrounding chaos, the restaurant has just reached its two year milestone and is beloved by critics and regular punters, alike.
1. What drew you, after studying Modern Languages at Oxford University, to a career in hospitality?
I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do after university but I did know and understand that my passion for cooking was constantly increasing. So I decided to see if it could work professionally for me and sent letters to half a dozen chefs/restaurants that I admired. I figured that if it didn't work out then I was still young and had a good degree.
2. Your experience at Blueprint Cafe, River Cafe and Rochelle Canteen is evident in your own cooking style, but did your time in those places also teach you skills for running your own restaurant? What business lessons did you learn?
I think Rochelle Canteen was the first place I started learning hard business skills as this is the only place where I had responsibility as a worker. They taught me how to calculate GPs and I then also received the monthly figures; I was exposed to their catering business and how to write quotes for clients; I was in charge of staffing for events; I would place the orders for the restaurant and catering jobs; and I was exposed to some of the problem solving that is so present in running a restaurant. From Blueprint and River Cafe I learnt softer skills about running a business - how to communicate with a team; how to be encouraged to read and learn more....
3. You opened Cafe Deco in the first year of Covid lockdowns. What was it like launching in that environment?
Awful. Totally horrendous. So stressful on every level. Not knowing whether we would be able to make any money but having to spend a tonne on getting the place open; constantly having to shift the business depending on what was happening with Covid; the biggest stress was that I had a team that I cared about and was unable to give them enough shifts because we couldn't be a restaurant (we were a takeaway for a long time) and no one could get furlough because we opened after the last deadline. There's a responsibility to a group of people and I didn't feel like I was able to look after them as much as I would have liked.
One silver lining is that we were able to get to know some of our locals a bit better as a takeaway as people could come in and have a chat and we had a bit more time . And because items were much less expensive than having a meal in the restaurant, it meant people were more able to come in and see what we were about.
4. How is Cafe Deco being impacted by inflation at the moment and how are you managing rising costs?
Ingredient prices are going up across the board. Whipping cream has gone up by 50%! We are also committed to paying any member of staff a bare minimum of the living wage. This went up by 8% recently so we have given pay rises across the board by this percentage.
We have had to increase our menu prices to reflect some of this. But we have also galvanised the team to be conscientious about how we run the restaurant. We turn the oven and plate warmer off between services, we try to keep waste to a minimum, all plug sockets are turned off at the switch at the end of the day. Little things to help save the pennies.
5. What piece of advice would you give to someone opening their first restaurant?
Don't do it! Only joking (sort of)! I think you really need to make sure you absolutely want to do it and feel committed to the cause. I think people should not be too attached to the dream in their head of their perfect restaurant.
Opening on more of a shoe string and cutting some non-essentials means you don't have to borrow as much money; the amount of money you have to pay back before you've started taking any money is scary and I imagine could easily be a reason why people don't succeed. It also means you can grow into the space and add things as necessary once you've started making a bit of money. Have a good accountant who can help guide you.
6. What business achievement are you most proud of?
Hmmmm, I don't know that it's a business achievement per se but I think I am most proud of the culture and sense of team spirit that we have in the restaurant.
7. What are your financial goals for the year ahead?
I think to just keep being steady. Nothing too grand.
8. In terms of personal spending, how do you treat yourself?
I love going out for dinner, occasionally splurging on clothes and the odd massage.
9. Which restaurants are on your hit list for the end of this year?
I tend to go to my old favourites if I'm honest and am a bit out of the loop with new thing!
You can follow Anna on Instagram.
Find out more about how we work with restaurant owners like Anna.