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Supper club, like no other….

December 25, 2013

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Supper clubs are a growing trend throughout the UK, with London leading the way. I am not one to follow trends, but things have a way of happening. For me the journey started, when I set up Bay Leaf – Cafe – Bar – Restaurant in the Custard Factory in June 2011. Like others before me, I was seduced by the place and the potential it had, to become Birmingham’s creative hub. It felt like the place was just about to ‘happen’ with all the proposed new developments and the promise of HS2. Alas, it didn’t ‘happen’ and the seduction was the lure for many others like me, who failed. The cafe that I was replaced by has now also closed. In a recent visit, I saw that a Nigerian restaurant has opened up in another part of the building – I hope they don’t suffer the same fate. For some businesses it is an ideal location, for mine it was in the wrong part of town and I failed to make it a success. The failure, has taught me one very important lessons, “location, location, location!”

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, in a short period of time I managed to develop the Bay Leaf brand. So, I thought about how I could retain the brand. I came up with the concept of ‘Bay Leaf @ Home’. The business has three strands, supper club, cooking classes and external catering. On the closing night of the restaurant on a cold January evening, I invited my regular customers, friends and family and launched Bay Leaf @ Home.

I didn’t hit the ground running – the first few months were period of reflection and some quality time with my family. Also, it knocked my confidence in a big way – it was the first time that I had failed so emphatically and was in a lot of debt. But, with the support of friends and family I picked myself up and got on with it. It was through friends that I started to get my first jobs for external catering. I was asked by a close friend if I could organise her 50th birthday – this was a great success. I started to get a few more bookings including a bar mitzva and this spurred me on to continue.

I was supposed to host supper clubs at a friend’s house, but he let me down at the last minute. But this was a blessing in disguise. I thought about how else, I could make this work. In my ‘day’ job I am the Director for Legacy WM and the aim of the organisation is to use heritage to bring people together. By now I had developed some excellent links with St Mary’s Convent. I asked them if I could host an event at their place and they agreed. Hosting the supper clubs in historical places combined my interest of ‘heritage and food’. There’s a lesson here, “when your back is against the wall, you will find a solution”.

The first supper club was called ‘Dine in the shadow of Pugin’ on the 10th May. It started with a tour of the place and an after dinner speaker called Nick Corbett, he has written a book called ‘Palace of Westminster’. This event was such a great success and left me elated. I had managed to showcase a hidden gem, provide amazing food and start an amazing network of very interesting people. The difference with my supper club is that it is held in a historical place of interest, which starts with a tour, followed by an after dinner speaker.

The second supper club was held at Soho House and called ‘Midsummer Lunar Dinner’ on the 21st June. Like the previous one it started with a tour of Soho House, food and live music. The music was courtesy of Louise Kilbride and friends – it started with folk music and they finished with the most amazing Jazz rendition by Sonia Indigo. I was blown away by the music and event – what an evening! Just as well really, because leading up to it at 5pm, I said to myself “I will never do another one because of all the hard work involved”. But lessons have been learned. The key is to plan better, organise as much in advance as possible and don’t underestimate the time required to prep….One of the icing on the cake was an e-mail from one of the guests, who said that he will remember the evening for as long as he lives. I have booked the venue for another similar event.

My most recent event was held at St Nicolas’ Place on 6th Sept. What an amazing venue – a fifteen century Tudor building that literally takes your breath away. Imagine a ‘Bangladeshi banquet in Tudor house’ who would have thought of that. The evening commenced with a tour, food and an after dinner speaker. By now, I had become better at planning and organising.

Throughout, I managed to collect volunteers along the way, they came to my Bangla Master classes, and without them it would not have been possible to host the supper clubs. I would like to extend a special thanks to Andy Sparke, Jayne Surman, Priya Pandit, Carol Lyndon and Alan Farley. In addition to that, I have developed a loyal customer base who have supported be throughout, and I am truly grateful.

So, a year on and reflecting on it – I set myself a modest target in cash terms and I nearly doubled that. This has helped to pay off some of my debts. But, is it worth the effort for the money that I have made – the answer is no. But in terms of social capitol and the friends that I have made along the way, I am unable to add a value to that. So, will I continue and build on the success? Watch this space.

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