There’s a warm welcome (and a few wagging tails) to greet you at Cantine, Fleet’s first dog-friendly café opened by Inspiring Enterprise participant, Alison Bullamore. Having taken redundancy last May after 21 years of working for British Airways, Alison decided the time was right to take the plunge and set up her own business.
“I felt it was the one time in my life that I’d have a lump sum of money to invest in a business,” says Alison. “We’d also become dog owners about 18 months earlier and were finding it a struggle to find places to take them, so that’s how the idea for a dog-friendly café came about.”
Alison’s work coach at Camberley Job Centre pointed her in the direction of Inspiring Enterprise and in June 2019, Alison had her first meeting with her business mentor, Richard Ryan.
“There was so much to think about including insurances, legal structures and getting my food hygiene certificate,” says Alison. “That’s when Richard was such a great help and brought so much knowledge. I found going through all the sales forecasts hard because I was never very maths-minded and that’s when I did start to doubt myself and whether I could do this. But Richard would talk me through different scenarios and he used to send me regular emails encouraging me to keep going when things were tough – he was brilliant!”
As well as her regular one-to-one meetings with business mentor Richard, Alison also attended several workshops run by Inspiring Enterprise, including one on social media which she found particularly useful. “I also met some lovely people at the workshops and we’re still in touch,” says Alison.
Alison knew that finding the right premises for her café was key and soon settled on a location in Fleet town centre, but first needed to apply for planning permission for a change of use. The permission came through in September and Alison signed the lease the next day – it was then that the hard work started.
“There were definitely times when I thought about giving up,” says Alison. “I’ve cried, I’ve had wobbles. But I knew it was a good concept and I was confident in customer service from my background at BA. I want the café to be a friendly place where people feel welcome, it’s really important to me.”
Alison’s husband, Dave, carried out the refit of the café and having retired from the Metropolitan Police, now helps run the café with her.
The pair attended a barista course at Winchester Coffee School and keen to support other local businesses, started sourcing suppliers for the café. “All our cakes are made by a lady in Frimley and we get our coffee from an independent roaster in Surrey,” says Alison. As well as the delicious-looking cakes and savoury treats on offer, the café provides snacks and Puppicinos for pooches and plenty of fresh water. The café walls are also adorned with colourful art produced by local artists which customers can buy – another idea of Alison’s to support businesses in the community.
“Opening day on 3rd February felt like such an achievement!” says Alison. “Lots of our friends have come in to support us and have even helped with washing up when we’ve been really busy. Seeing the café when it’s been absolutely rammed, has been quite a moment!”
Visit www.cantinefleet.co.uk for more information.