After years of planning, investment, and copious amounts of stress, Fran finally cut the red ribbon on Cortado and swung open his doors, ready to supply the people of Bath with Easy Jose coffee. This was in March 2020, and two weeks later he was forced to close them shut again, after the pandemic caused a nationwide lockdown to be enforced.
Once lockdown was first enforced, coffee shops and cafes were some of the first to close, unsure when or if they would open back up. Over the proceeding months, owners were ravaged with more uncertainty and concern over their future, and if they were able to keep their businesses afloat. Now, 15 months on, we took this opportunity to have a chat with Fran about his experience working through the pandemic, his background in the industry, and what kept him motivated to keep working and pushing on.
What was your background in the coffee industry, prior to opening Cortado?
I worked for about 4 years in 3 completely different coffee shops and in 3 completely different positions. From a big chain to a tiny charity coffee shop. All 3 experiences (on top of about 10 years working in hospitality) gave me the knowledge and ‘variety’ I needed to start my own shop.
What specific knowledge did you gain that helped you start your own shop?
I don’t want to sound like an old wise man but I think with years and experience I understood that lots of issues/problems/day-to-day things can be solved with common sense more than massive knowledge. Having said this, of course there are things you can’t do without the knowledge, but overall I think the idea that by thinking and using my common sense many things can be achieved was the deal breaker more than the new knowledge I learned.
What motivated you to want to open up your own coffee shop?
Many things! Maybe too many! The main one was the possibility of making decisions and running the shop the way I like to, instead of following other people’s ideas, decisions, etc. which of course can be great, but maybe not exactly ‘mine’.
How important was it to have your own ideas and sense of direction before and during planning to own a coffee shop?
Very important. Without them, Cortado wouldn’t have been a reality.
How difficult was it experiencing the pandemic so soon after opening, and how did you then pivot your business model?
It was difficult and stressful for the first 2 months (Mid-March to Mid-May). We were a new business and we couldn’t qualify for some of the help that the government were giving. This made us think and decide to go back to work as soon as we could and as soon as we felt it was safe and responsible to do so. We needed people to see us before all other shops were back open, and we needed to be there for them as well. This (I think) was the best decision we took since we started Cortado. People appreciate this and made the rest of the pandemic months way easier.
Of course, we had to completely re-adapt our business in a matter of weeks after years of planning. We had to move to alternatives we wouldn’t have thought we would do. Luckily it went pretty smooth and in a matter of days we had a queue non-stop from open to close.
What was the most difficult part of the last 12-15 months for you, and how did you stay motivated?
During the time that we couldn’t keep the shop open and with lockdown when we all had to stay home, I’ll say that it was the most difficult time. I stayed motivated by developing new things for when we could open and enjoying my daily allowed run and nature.
How have your ideas changed for your venue due to restrictions?
My main ideas haven’t changed. We are all about great coffee, fresh quality food and friendly faces. We want Cortado to be a place that people choose to work for and that people are happy and comfortable with. We want to be an example in terms of sustainability and being as eco-friendly as possible in the way we run our business. All these haven’t changed with lockdown/social distancing. Details have, not our vision or mission.
Why is being sustainable and eco-friendly important to you specifically?
After reading, researching and seeing the changes in the world I understood that if we don’t take action we’ll end up all in a very difficult position. I now have a 6 month-old baby and I don’t want him to miss the beautiful things I enjoyed from nature and from our planet when I was younger. We are by no means perfect at Cortado but we ask ourselves every day if there are any changes we can do to be a bit more eco-friendly.
What made you choose Easy Jose when deciding on your supplier?
Many things! Just to mention some: The ethos of the company. The great staff behind the coffee. The Coffee itself!! It’s sooo good.
How did you decide on what equipment to use?
Mostly by recommendations of people I trust but of course also doing some research and taking into account cost, size, quality, etc.
What positives can you take away from this experience?
That if you can’t adapt you won’t survive. I’m very happy and proud of how we adapted. Also, the incredible team we built and how supportive and helpful they’ve all been.
What advice do you have for those looking to open a new venue at this time?
Don’t listen to many advisers and do what your heart and mind tells you ☺