Tuesday, 11 August 2015

A Family Business - What gives you the right?

The first time I described Pettigrew Tea Rooms as a 'family run business' in early 2012 I felt bad.

I questioned my right to that claim for our business. 

A family run business evokes a sense of local-ness, integrity, control, care about the customer, belonging, community, honesty and many more things. I have always believed these things are true for Pettigrews and help to make this place special, but saying those words felt odd.

Why the unease?

It is an honour to be an employer where your employees become family. Today I can hold my head up, look you in the eyes and talk about the Pettigrew team as a family outside the ties of blood. Way back in 2012 we started more like pals muddling through. The family we have now was not expected, hoped for yes but never presumed. The discomfort I felt reflects how I felt at the time about myself, my now husband and the fear of putting our name to something untested.

A family business can be a great gift, it is not for every family. Lee and I lived together worked together with scarce few hours of the week where we were not in each others company. The stresses, tears, paranoia, fear, arguments, love, joy, success and contentment all shared. Pettigrew has evolved and we always treated it as more than just us, asking what does Pettigrew deserve? It always deserves more than we can give, all we can do is our best. Part of that is knowing when our best isn't good enough but if we keep trying we can improve.

Living those years together forged us in a way I cannot say I would recommend or want to relive, it didn't make our relationship, I believe that our relationship survived what was genuinely a gruelling test. The unanticipated gift of this experience was the knowledge that our relationship can survive and strengthen through experiences that most people will not endure. That was a revelation and is certainly part of why I write this as a married man.

Lee and I could be found at Pettigrew Tea Rooms nearly every day for the first 3 years and that is part of what established this ethos of a family business. We put in more of oursleves than we should have at times, but it was always in the pursuit of what Pettigrew deserved.

I have had cause this past week to look back at what makes a family business a family business and before we go further I realise that I need to thank my family. My mum and mum2 still remind me of the mornings they happily wiled away washing dishes in our suitably inadequate makeshift potwash of the early days.

It is incredible to think how things have changed from those early days, but the all hands on deck support we had was incredible. I was so caught up in the next three years that I don't think I ever stopped to say thank you properly. Thanks mums! you guys saved our bacon! x

The first cup of tea made in the tea rooms was by my sister! and my other sister scrubbed labels from pans with my dear friends too! Helen, Nan, Gran, Jo, Steve, Di, Karl, Kath, Manon; the list goes on and I could spend this post just thanking people who helped me and Lee in those days.

To look forward sometimes you need to look at where have you come from and what you have learned.

What has put me in mind of family and specifically this new chapter of the Pettigrew family happened three weeks ago when my Dad died.

You may or may not know that the specific catalyst to me quitting my job in 2010 was the diagnosis of my Step Father, Don, who suffered from cancer in his brain and passed away in January 2011. I was inspired not to let life happen and chose instead to turn the fear that this would become my life's great regret, into the fuel for I Want to Bake Free and Pettigrew Tea Rooms. Bringing us tidily to Sunday 25th July 2010 when I sat down and wrote my first blog post which you can read here.

My Dad, Robert James Le Masurier, was diagnosed with mesothelioma over two years ago, which is a type of cancer from working with asbestos when he was young. He passed away in July this year, just a few short weeks ago.

This is not a blog post about cancer, sadly you probably have your own story to tell about that disease, but it is about family and inspiration. My Dad was brilliant. He was the middle son of Stella and Jack Le Masurier, my Grandad Jack being the entrepreneur who started Fitzroy Joinery Ltd which he then handed on to my Dad to run as our family business.

As boys, me and my brothers grew up as the sons of the boss that ran a company in Plymouth known for quality, precision and skilled joinery professionals. Dad worked almost his entire adult life making Fitzroy Joinery Ltd prosper, through the recessions and the good times. Talk about an inspiration. Mum and Dad never once pressured me or my brothers to think of taking on the family business and as each of us left home, we never did.

When I came to Dad with my plans in spring 2010 we analysed and discussed them in great detail, it was like a pitch to Dragons Den, but with Dads unique calm inquisitive and precise business mind. With the love, support and encouragement of both my Dad, my Step Mother and all my family, I made the leap and quit my job. Pettigrew Tea Rooms opened on the 29th March 2012, over 20 months later.

Being a hands on guy working in the building trade for his entire life, Dad advised me through our fit out. He sat in on the meetings with the contractors at West Lodge and helped me to install our kitchens and pot wash. Famed for his saying 'Measure Twice, Cut Once!' that is a favourite saying to this day at the tea rooms and one we will always try to live by.

Dad has done so much for me and he always said it was his privilege to be there for us boys and help us grow. Pettigrew was born from my family and now is its own family, beyond our team it may well include you.

In the last conversation alone with my Dad on Thursday 9th July 2015, he didn't have much energy to speak, but was hanging on every word as we discussed the pros and cons of the purchase of the shop in Victoria Park for Pettigrew Bakeries and the possibility of another tea room elsewhere. Sat up watching England winning the first leg of the Ashes in Cardiff, I was chatting away about all of the things that could go wrong, all the difficulties and the possibilities. Unable to waste much energy with words he simply said
"...ah, but you won't let those things happen, you will do it right" all with his smile.

I am so proud to have known this man and benefited from his love and guidance. We both knew in that moment, that this time I wouldn't be able to ask him for his help again, but he left me with the knowledge that he trusted I would do it right. There is not a gift a Dad can give to his Son more than that, at 33 i'd rather have my Dad here, but knowing he trusted me was his last precious gift. We made a video for Dad which me and my brothers shared at his funeral. He did so much for us and for me and Pettigrews. As we embark on this new adventure of inventing Pettigrew Bakeries I had to look back at where we came from, what is important, what does it mean to be a family, to have a family business.

I will try and do it right Dad, thank you for our family, I promise that our future family will honour you in all we do at Pettigrews

Yesterday I exchanged contracts on a beautiful shop building in Victoria Park overlooking the entrance to Victoria Park itself, laid out of course by W W Pettigrew. Pettigrew Bakeries will honour the family that gave us Cardiff's stunning parks by growing our family. I hope you will come along for the ride!

As always I will try and share the best information here on the blog and through @want2bakefree

Friday, 18 January 2013

What you Want, What you Really Really Want

I think that I should win an award.

Now before you go thinking that this will be some long, conceited, rambling self congratulatory blog post about Pettigrew Tea Rooms hold on and move your mouse well away from the angry cross.

The award I deserve is "Longest Period of Maintained Procrastination Followed by Complete Digital Silence". This probably needs a little work, but I am sure there are many other writers out there feeling the January pang of guilt for the lack of input on their blogs, who would be up for a nomination.

Now to business. I have been asked quite a few questions about the Tea Rooms particularly from those who aren't lucky enough to live in or around Cardiff and haven't made it to us yet, but who followed my story up to the point of opening the doors.

For my first blog post in a wee while I thought it would be good to answer some of those questions. This will as ever be a candid and personal view that you won't catch anywhere else. If you have questions let me know in the notes at the bottom, or on my varied Pinterest, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter outlets and I will answer and add them to this post.

What did I feel during 2012?

Petrified. I decided this morning to chart my three main emotions to give you a visual representation here:

I adore excel, it is the backbone of my business.

Now to give this come context, I did not spend this year a gibbering wreck on the edge, well not often. There were only two times to memory that members of my team had to physically retrain me (now that is a good story perhaps an additional question). But fear is a great motivator for me. As I have gown up I have come to know fear and use it to get things done. Fear stimulates momentum and helps me break inertia often leading to the highest feelings of joy and accomplishment. These emotions can be felt all in the space of a day.

So it is no surprise that on January 26th 2012 when I received the news my dream was to actually become a reality I had somewhat of a 'fear spike'. Following the huge success of the launch and opening of the tea rooms it wasn't until the bad weather of May and June that the receding fear took an upward swing. You see my focus up until then had been to open Pettigrew's and get it right from the word go. After all my preparation and lengthy debate using this very blog to tell people about how I was going to 'do it right', I had very little wiggle room to mess it up and tweak it better. This new fear following the opening is the fear of being passed your best.

Passing your best is the odd fear that you have accomplished the best you could without really noticing it and it isn't until the slide that you look back and can see the peak. We had less people coming through the doors at the start of May and for one week while storms gripped the UK I thought (somewhat irrationally in retrospect) that we had seen the peak of popularity.

In June we were covered with scaffolding while some rather unexpected work was carried out, this  helped neither my nerves or the customer head count. With the removal of the scaffolding and the arrival of mid July my fear receded and switched to how to manage the flow of customers now we finally appeared to be on the map.

View Larger Map

From July on it was back to the job of delivering the very best experience we could every time. Now we don't always get it right, but our motto is to deliver you the little things done right and we will always strive to do this.

I now sit at a happy equilibrium, fueled by a little fear, enjoying the experience and confident that my business is healthy and loved by our customers.

What was the High the Low and the Average?

The High has been the excitement at every milestone. There is an outrageous physical surge of pleasure that I have never experienced as frequently as this year. I can not single out one occasion and the trigger can vary. Off the top of my head; when I realise that I am an employer providing 4 full time and 6 part time jobs I feel it. When we were on The Great British Bake Off on BBC2 in October I felt it. When we recieve a 5* Trip Advisor review I feel it. When a customer says that was the best coffee they have had in Cardiff I feel it. When we were awarded our 5* Food Hygiene Award I felt it (go and look who has a 0,1 or 2 shocking!). The highs bring with them an overwhelming sense of peace which lasts and acts as a great reference for when the lows arrive.

I live for the lows, it is in my nature. If you receive 100 compliments and 1 person gives the gift of complaint it is the complaint that will echo around in my skull for the remaining waking hours. Remember the highs and learn from the lows. Move on. There is a very personal low I experienced in 2012 which crept up on me slowly and only came into sharp relief at Christmas. My partner and I have given up a lot to live this reality, financially and emotionally. We miss our friends and family especially those living further away. If any low exists it is the low of missing the closeness with the ones you love due to distance and time.

The Average was my secret fear for this project all along. I never voiced it prior, but I thought what happens if I get my dream and I feel the same? No day is the same. Yes there are average days, but those days are varied and challenging in their own little way. As I am VERY fond of telling my staff, "there is always something to do, especially cleaning".

What's next?
This final question only gets a brief answer here. I want to tease you. I enjoy teasing you. I have teased around 100,000 of you since starting this blog a few years ago.

I have news, but I cannot share it right now...

It is BIG exciting Tea Room news that will make you get up and dance!

For now though if you want any clues there are only two ways to get them.

Firstly come into Pettigrew Tea Rooms and ask me
Secondly watch this space


Saturday, 2 June 2012


I wanted to set up a tea room and the good news is that is exactly what I have done.

You may have spotted a small gap in my blog story telling with my last post being published on Tuesday 27th March 2012. That post heralded the news that following two years of planning, 44 blog posts and around 5500 tweets my dream of running a tea room was finally realised.

My abrupt silence was a deliberate and direct reflection of how all consuming setting up a business is. I will try to write about the experience now that I have some perspective. At various points over the past weeks of radio silence I have toyed with writing to you to explain, narrate and share my thoughts, feelings and adventures. My instincts told me to leave it, to experience it, so that I remember it and then share to it and so here we are.

You may have been part of the experience in real time, visiting the tea rooms in person. For that I can only thank you all. There has been no greater pleasure than meeting someone who connected to my story online and then made the effort to come in and say hello. Would we ever have met otherwise?

Here are some facts...
Since opening the doors in late March we have served over 15kg of Pettigrew Breakfast Tea, 800 toasted tea cakes, over 40 Victoria Sandwiches, 500 sandwiches, 4500 shots of fine Welsh roasted coffee, nearly 3000 scones and made countless new friends many of which I am delighted to say have become regulars!

Today my catch up will bring you how we went about taking on the West Lodge and translating all that planning into a living operating commercial tea room; to wake from my dream so to speak.

I need you to know that it has been incredibly tough but indescribably rewarding.

The 'Tea Room' in storage in my house

Decision Making

I had confirmation that I was the preferred operator for the tea room at West Lodge in late January this year and from that time on it was a race against the clock to turn all my procrastinating into a brilliant business that I was visualising.

One of the mutually agreed terms of my tenancy was to ensure that the tea rooms were open in time for the RHS Flower Show Cardiff on the weekend of Friday the 20th April. RHS attracts around 22,000 visitors to Bute Park each year and if anything would be a test for the tea rooms, then this would be it. From all of my research and speaking to other small business start ups, giving yourself time to test out your operation is key.

The builders gave us a get in date of the 9th March with a full handover of the building on Tuesday 20th March. With the RHS weekend less than four weeks from the handover date, I knew that the fit out would have to be quick and so I picked the date of Friday 30th March as our grand opening with a soft opening from the Monday before.

Her are some pictures which speak for themselves really, enjoy!

Fit Out Schedule
Monday 9th March - Kitchen Build

Friday 13th March - Still Room Build

Tuesday 19th March - Tea Room Fit Out

Saturday 24th March - Tea Room Dressing

Tuesday 27th March - Staff Induction and Soft Opening

Friday 30th March - GRAND OPENING

On the morning of Friday 30th March 2012, I was busy setting out the outside seating on our beautiful terrace and a random runner came past and shouted "Bake Free Brother!".

This was one of the most moving things during the opening. I still don't know who that was but thank you, it was brilliant. The good news is, I feel free... I am free.

Come in soon and say hello.

More photos and story to follow soon.

David & team

I Want to Bake Free on


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