5 mins read

Over a Brew with… Dash!

Having just opened 3 months ago, Dash! have hit the ground running in Leigh-on-Sea. We had a great chat with owners, Sidney and Christina, having no prior experience in the hospitality sector, they had some fantastic advice for those who look to set sail in the world of speciality coffee.

When did you start and what was the ethos behind Dash! ?

(Sidney) Dash! started roughly 12 months ago, where we were looking at various franchise opportunities. Nearing the final negotiations there were some hiccups, we then pulled out and thought what shall we do now? Can we do it on our own and without someone else taking 10%. We thought why not, and began to build a plan of attack. Fortunately we already had the property in place, from the franchise negotiations. They were happy for us to retain the property as tenants and that’s where Dash! was born from.

In terms of motivation, Christina and I were both working in the city. I still work in the city sometimes, but over time the rat race became too much, and we wondered if there was anything else we could invest in to give us a better work-life balance and opportunity for success. We’ve always wanted to get into hospitality, Christina is a great baker and fantastic with customers, so it was a natural alignment with owning a coffee shop. Christina resigned from the city job and we began the business. 

What were you doing in the city (London) beforehand? 

(Christina) I was a PA at a bank, so completely different to what I’m doing now. There were both positives and negatives with this – the positive is that I could come into the industry with a completely fresh view, we approached everything from scratch. I felt like I wanted the cafe to feel like home. The negative was that in hospitality, we didn’t actually know very much at all (as we’ve never done it before). We’ve learnt a lot in the last 3 months. I can tell you that. 

What were the biggest challenges you’ve faced going into hospitality? 

(Christina) So, we started off with suppliers and consumables, that was massive, I knew nothing about any of this! When buying consumables, as we’re mainly a takeaway operation, you need to be socially conscious and environmentally conscious – it’s a minefield out there! There’s so many options, I have a spreadsheet the size of my arm with them on. 

Finding the right suppliers to work with was also a nightmare, there’s so many of them and without prior knowledge it was a challenge! 

What were you looking for with your suppliers and how did you know who to go with? 

(Sidney) One of the main factors when looking at suppliers was the quality of produce, the food offerings and drinks needed to be high-quality and from reputable brands. In terms of the consumables, we tried to align as much as we could with environmentally friendly products, we wanted to maintain the lowest carbon footprint we could when doing this. Meaning, the more local the better.

(Christina) Our main consumable was Vegware, they were really well known and their supplies are great. 

What was it like starting in Leigh-on-Sea and what was the coffee scene like around there when you started?

(Sidney) It’s currently getting better, but there wasn’t many speciality coffee shops in general. I think we were only the second specialty coffee shop to open. That being said, it is quite an affluent area so the money is there and we wanted to help push the community. 

(Christina) It’s tough, where speciality coffee in the area isn’t really well known, on the high street Costa was quite a big contender. Fortunately, they have just closed! We did find a lot of those loyal Costa customers didn’t really understand what we were doing when they first started to come to our shop, we don’t have a huge menu with extra large flat whites and boiling hot milk. It was a bit of a learning curve I think for them, understanding that speciality coffee takes a bit longer to make, the milk needs to be just right and it’s all done by hand.

How was it finding new staff and employing experienced baristas? 

(Sidney) Well we advertised the same way as I expect most coffee shops do, on Indeed, flyers on the window that kind of thing. We didn’t actually mind if those coming in didn’t have much experience. Our coffee suppliers Curious Roo provide training and we wanted everyone to have the same training so everything would be consistent whilst being a good team building exercise. 

How did you land on your decision for your coffee to be supplied by Curious Roo

(Sidney) I tried to research the roasters that were local to us, we were first introduced by some roasters by the franchise that we nearly went with. That gave us an introduction to the kind of questions to ask your roaster, the important things. I then went out contacting a bunch of roasters, we then got lots and lots of beans to test. It was still quite difficult as we still hadn’t built up our palette by then, and again there were so many to choose from. 

A bit further down the line, we went to the London Coffee Show, we met Curious Roo and we got a really warm response from them. If we have any questions, they always get back to us, the support was exactly what we were looking for and gave us the push to choose them. 

(Christina) Edwin was so down to earth and real, we felt that was lacking with some suppliers. When you talk about speciality coffee, most of it is really good, for us it was more than the coffee and the relationship with the partners. 

If someone was in your position and was starting out in speciality coffee with no prior experience, what would your advice be? 

(Sidney) The most important thing is getting the right team around you, if you’re serious about it and want to make an impact in the community – get a great branding company so you can help brand the business, the design and layout makes such a difference. 

Ensuring you have the right supply chain, especially your coffee. Get the right equipment and make sure you do your research before. The whole infrastructure around the team is so important. 

(Christina) I must say also, I had two shadowing days in a coffee shop beforehand, I was shown how it works and how things run properly. I had some good ideas of what to do, and what not to – it made a huge difference being able to see behind the scenes.

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