West Lothian couple sees cafe’s popularity rise

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Business gateway - audrey finlayson and paul gray outside the hideaway cafe in linlithgow 13

A former retained firefighter and his partner have set the West Lothian hospitality sector alight, welcoming nearly 31k customers through the doors of their café in the past six months alone.

Paul Gray and Audrey Finlayson, who have tapped into advice from Business Gateway West Lothian, opened Linlithgow’s Hideaway Café Beecraigs in March last year.

During their first year, the couple served just over 42k customers and are now on target to smash that footfall figure, predicting more than 50K customers will cross their threshold by March 2019, a 20% increase on the previous year.

Paul believes the success of the café comes down to great customer service, wholesome food that caters for a range of diets including gluten free, and outstanding food hygiene, with the eatery boasting the Eat Safe Certificate.

He said: “The café has been a huge success and we could not have succeeded without the help, hard work and dedication of our two managers, Jacqueline Murphy and James McGill. In the first year alone we sold 9k scones and since installing a new coffee machine in November we’ve sold 35k coffees! We are also one of the most environmentally friendly cafes in the area, using 100% compostable plates, cutlery and cups that disintegrate in a matter of weeks in food compost bins.

“We’d love to double in size if we could, as there is such demand for what we offer – a wide variety of freshly made food combined with some of the best views in central Scotland.

“When we first opened a customer asked if we had anything gluten free. We didn’t, so I set about changing the menu. Ensuring things are 100% free-from isn’t as hard as you’d think. I just applied my skills from the fire brigade and put in place mechanisms to ensure no cross contamination could occur. Because of those changes, our gluten free sales have increased 500% and 17% of our customers follow a coeliac or dairy free diet.

“We’ve also gained Coeliac UK GF accreditation and have been nominated in three categories at this year’s Free From Eating Out Awards in recognition of how well we cater for gluten free diets.”

He added: “When I first did the financial forecast for the café it gave me a fright, so I turned to Business Gateway West Lothian for advice. My adviser, David Barclay, assured me the figures were correct and helped me successfully apply for an £8k Enterprise grant to cover some start-up costs. He also put me in touch with West Lothian Council’s Steps N2 Work programme through which we offered three work placements, with one turning into a full-time job. Most recently, I’ve had helped through the DigitalBoost programme which has made me more confident on social media.”

David Barclay, Business Gateway West Lothian, said: “Paul and Audrey have created a business that has hit the right note with a large number of the people who visit Beecraigs Country Park each year. Providing food for a wide range of diets also means that visitors with food allergies and intolerances feel safe when they are eating out. With our help, we have provided 1:1 advice that has increased Paul’s confidence and business knowledge, including helping him get more traction on Facebook.”

The idea to run a café arose after Audrey was made redundant from her job in catering and established the first Hideaway Café in a community centre in South Queensferry in 2009.

When the couple decided to establish the café in Beecraigs they closed their South Queensferry eatery. They then opened a further Hideaway Café in the Bathgate Partnership Centre at the end of last year. Plans are now underway to establish a bistro in the Lothians in 2019.

Both cafés have a strong community focus, and last Christmas the team supported Radio Forth’s Mission Christmas, volunteering to drive and collect toys for underprivileged children living in Edinburgh, Lothians and Fife.

The business currently employs six full-time and one part-time employee across its two cafes as well as two seasonal staff.

Paul said: “It’s been hard work, but with café managers in place I now feel I can take a step back and focus on growing the business to make our offering even better.”

Find out how Business Gateway West Lothian can help your business by visiting their local page or calling 01506 668 732.

Outwith this area? Find your local Business Gateway office or call 0300 013 4753.

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