I caught up with David Le Masurier, known more familiarly across the internet by his (soon to be trademarked!) Twitter handle, @want2bakefree and his blog.
David has big plans to open a delicious-sounding Victorian style tearoom here in Cardiff by mid February 2012.
I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone as genuine and passionate about something before. David has certainly won me over – I absolutely cannot wait for the *top secret* place to open.
There’s just something about afternoon tea. It might be how quintessentially English it is; it might hark to my burning desire to be Daisy from the Great Gatsby; or it may just be my love for spending an afternoon eating and drinking tasty nibbles off of a pretty three-tiered plate full of difficult choices.
Whatever the reason, David tells me all about his venture. This involves him leaving his hotel career, attempting to find a venue for the last 18 months, and finally getting to grips with all his exciting ideas.
Hi David. So what made you decide to quit your job and embark on your new venture?
There were lots of reasons. I have always wanted to have my own business and I have always wanted to be quite creative. I think when I was trying to decide what business I wanted to do, I thought that I’ve always loved baking. That was there in the forefront of my mind. I started thinking about a tea room as it was something I remember from my early childhood. I have some great memories of me and my mum visiting tea rooms.
Then I started thinking that there wasn’t anything like that in Cardiff, so I wanted to just get up and go and do it really.
The catalyst for it all was that my job was getting more and more hectic, like a lot of people, especially during the recession.
At weekends, me and my partner were baking, and I got annoyed when I had to start working on a Sunday evening. I’d be off travelling Sunday evening and afternoon, and then I would be coming home late on a Friday, so I would only have Saturday and a little bit of Sunday. That was the whole catalyst; breaking free from all of that.
What was your career previously?
I worked in hotels. I graduated from uni in Hospitality Management in Cardiff and I went into hotels which has been great. I really did enjoy my job. I have worked in all sorts of different departments before finally going in to sales. I was Regional Director of sales in an international four star hotel chain which was great, but it was just really tough and really pressurised. I was working really hard and lining someone else’s pocket- which is rubbish.
Do you have a theme in mind for the tearoom?
Traditional, Victorian, Edwardian. A bit of a mix but think nice oak tables, porcelain china, and lots of real butter, cakes and cream and sugar and loose leaf teas. And really good coffee that I’ve just written about. That’s the kind of theme.
I want really traditional but I don’t want horse brass, and I don’t want doilies.
No sticky tables either, that’s how I want to be different from big corporate companies. No sticky tables.
Have you got a location sorted yet?
I do but it’s still super secret. If you have read any of the blog, I have got the most amazing, perfect location but we can’t talk about it. I don’t want anybody else to get it, it’s up for grabs, so I have to be a bit careful. But I will be able to tell the world in December slash January. I’m building the tension.
Have you decided on an opening date yet?
It will be, all things going well, the middle of February. That’s quite cool because I turn 30 around then.
If I don’t get the property that I am hoping to get, then I will start 2012 with no job, no tea room for the second time in two years, as that was what happened last January, and I’ll be about to turn 30, so I’ll be pretty much ready to throw myself in the Taff.
I’m quite confident now about the venue, but it is still up for grabs. I’m working very, very hard on that project.
The blog is taking up so much time too. I sit down sometimes and think, “Oh my god I’ve got to write a blog post,” which I’m loving. I can’t believe how popular it’s become. I really didn’t expect it to, and then part of me is thinking I actually need to focus on getting the tea room and not just talking about it.
When did you decide that this is what you really wanted to do?
That’s an easy one. I was sat drinking a gin and tonic on the top floor of a hotel in Barcelona in June 2010. It was my dad’s 60th birthday, and my brothers and their wives all have pretty cool jobs. They have all worked really hard. They seem to do things that they really like, and they are always talking about it.
I remember sitting there and thinking, I work just as hard as you guys but I just don’t have any of that same passion and enjoyment. I knew I could do this. I spoke to my partner and said I want to do this. Then I knew that everything else would just have to happen. If it all fails and falls, I don’t want this to be a life regret. I don’t want to look back in 10 years and think, I should have done that.
What do you think are the biggest challenges that you face?
Lots of people would say money. I’m not made of money but I’ve worked really hard and saved a little bit so I’m okay with that.
So I would say, finding a property is the hardest thing to do. You may need to rebuild your business plan from scratch. There might be no traffic or you may have to completely rely on marketing to drag people through the door. Or you might find a beautiful place where you know there’s going to be loads of people walking past the door but then you have a completely different business model because it will be really busy. So, for me the venue is by far the hardest thing. Basically, it has taken me 18 months, nearly two years from when I first started seriously looking. I know most people can’t afford two years to look for a venue…
Are you worried about the amount of successful coffee chains in the area and how do you think you will fare in the current economic climate?
I’m not worried because of the sticky tables issue. I think the big chain coffee shops have done me and independent shops a real favour. They have educated the customer in to liking really good coffee and tea, but they have also made everyone pay a premium. You go in to Starbucks and people will pay £4 for a coffee. Yes they are usually quite substantial coffees, but it is at a price.
I also think people have become a bit bored of the cafe culture. I think people do still love to go and enjoy the atmosphere but people are actively looking for different things. They are looking for independent people, people who are locally sourcing, and home-baking on site. Costa do very well, but obviously it’s all bought in food.
I think people like little luxuries. People love little treats and I think it’s a great way for people to get out and enjoy each other’s company. Me and my partner pre-recession would go out and have dinner, without thinking too much of it. But now people do different activities and it’s more about spending quality time together, and maybe not spending quite as much. We will go out and treat ourselves to an afternoon tea or coffee. I think if anything, now is a really good time.
The cupcake thing has been really on-trend and I think it’s kind of fading away a bit which is fine for me as I’m not really about cupcakes. I’m about baking which is still very much in people’s minds.
What are you favourite cakes?
Every cake. It’s really hard to answer. I love baking. I think my favourite is probably when I have found a new recipe.
My favourite is taking something I know and perfecting it. Like carrot cake. When you have a piece that’s delicious you wonder how it was made so great. When you perfect a classic, I think that’s when I get the best buzz.
How have things been with the blog?
I think it’s really caught people’s imagination because of I Want to Bake Free. I spent a year coming up with a brand name for the actual tea room but the blog name just came to me, and I’m now actually trademarking it. I can’t kill off I Want to Bake Free, it’s amazing. It just seems to capture people. I’m sure everyone wants to dream about getting out of their job and doing something they love.
I knew I’d be excited but not this much. I just love it.
What are your views on social media? That’s how I discovered you.
I’m trying to use different forms of social media because it’s very genuine. I’m interested in what I’m doing so Twitter works for me. It doesn’t work for a lot of companies because people have no interest in reading about a couple of new products, but they are interested in me as I’ve made it so personal. It’s about the struggle, and breaking free.
Social media is mainly about the awareness, but the amount of people that come back to you with interesting thoughts and questions and ideas is just great. It’s quite a collaboration. I’m a big Twitter fan now.
Will there be afternoon tea?
There will absolutely be afternoon tea. I will have a nice range. There will be at least two, if not three or four types of afternoon tea. They will be ranging from the quite traditional so think loose leaf teas with scones and jam, which is all home-made on site. All the baking will be done on site. Then that will go through to high tea where you will have proper crustless sandwiches and they will be served beautifully. I have got lots of beautiful tables, and lots of dainty Victorian furniture. The furniture will be un-clothed for the most part, but if you order our high end afternoon tea, we will probably cloth the table in front of you and bring napkins. All so you get the extra exciting, indulgent feel.
I’m certainly not short on ideas.