As I head into each weekend it’s usually the time when I am at my most reflective. Our ‘old lives’ where we had ‘normal’ days at work seem like a distant memory now and I do wonder where the last 12 weeks have gone. It’s hard to believe how much all our lives have changed.
Today, I have been looking back to the middle of March and it feels apt that my last meeting pre-lockdown was also one of my first post-lockdown. I originally wanted to share this story with you a few months ago, but it just did not feel the right time. It felt wrong talking about a business that had to all of a sudden, like many, just ‘shut the doors’.
I am turning back the time to Monday 16th March. It was 4pm and I was meeting a photographer at an independent bistro we have been working with for the past few years. The guys who own and run Bohemia in St Neots are an absolute joy to work with. They literally work at 100 miles an hour, are always smiling and just magically passionate about what they do. It’s infectious!
James and Ash opened Bohemia in 2016, (it was actually their 4th birthday last week) in the centre of this quiet market town outside of Cambridge. They bring something different to the high street. Fantastic coffee, an eclectic brunch/lunch menu as well as cocktails and tapas three nights a week. Those days they are open from 6am until midnight and it’s always busy. The team at Bohemia, work really hard. After just 18 months of opening they expanded into the store next door. It was over Christmas after a long drawn out process with leases, planning and listed building consents we got approval to carry out a second extension into the adjacent old butcher’s store. The next five weeks were a hive of activity despite Christmas parties and festive shutdowns and on the 16th Jan 2020 the guys re-opened with an additional 20 covers.
To give you an idea of how successful this place is, it’s next door to a Greggs. Yet, every morning there is a queue out of the door for coffee. Probably because their coffee is AMAZING. They roast it themselves, in their Roastery, which they also opened last year. Oh, and they have two converted horse boxes which they take up and down the country spreading the Bohemia joy to festival goers. You can go any day of the week; any time of day and the place is heaving.
What I’ve always admired about the team behind Bohemia is their ability to diversify their business model.
So many businesses fail in their first year because of their refusal to listen to what the customer wants. These guys listen and they give their customers exactly what they ask for and their success is a testament to this.
So back to Monday 16th March, I am sure anyone in the hospitality industry will remember this week as the gamechanger. The week when Boris announced a crackdown on socialising. When I saw the guys on this Monday evening, we were all a little less chatty than normal, a bit of small talk about what was going to unfold and a hug goodbye. By the end of the week, our social lives as we know them had changed for the foreseeable.
Yet again, James, Ash and their team looked at ways to diversify in a crisis and created Bohemia Bites. They started offering their menu as take-out and working with their local suppliers Kale and Damson to bring fresh fruit, vegetables and essentials to the community as well as selling their coffee online. As the lockdown intensified, they made the decision to stay at home. However, if you peek at their Instagram feed @bohemiastneots you can see the fully story of what happened during lockdown.
This Wednesday, I happily walked back through the doors to catch up with the guys. My soya flat white was being made, greeting me like an old friend. There was none of the usual hugs due to social distancing but the banter remained and we all shared stories and laughed (mainly about my inability to drink more than two cups of coffee).
I spent a few minutes recording James’ thoughts on what is happening now as the reopening is in sight and am looking forward to sharing this video with you over the next few days.
The plans being made for hospitality reopening has inspired conversations across the board with many of our clients from hotels, B&I, pubs, event venues and retail. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more of these conversations with you. Big love to you all…