Deli entrepreneur Sue Belcher talks to MARION SAUVEBOIS about her latest project
EVEN the pluckiest of entrepreneurs would be likely to draw the line at a ramshackle garage as the new locale for their blooming food emporium. But not Bloomfields Fine Food’s Sue Belcher.
Instead of taking to her heels at the sight of the desolate ‘shack’ on Shrivenham High Street, just a few yards from her own award-winning delicatessen, her antennae shot up and she hatched plans for a village coffee shop and deli.
She returned home to inform her husband Tim of the news and surreptitiously roped him in as project manager.
By December, just four months later, customers were happily scoffing cream-lathered sponge, three-tiered coffee cake and fluffy scones over a warm cuppa.
“Shrivenham is our home and it was just the perfect location for a coffee shop and deli,” explains Sue.
“People used to come into the deli and ask if there was somewhere they could sit and have a coffee but we had to tell them no.
“I’ve never had a plan really, it just happened. I didn’t have to think about it for a second. I couldn’t bear it if someone else had taken that space.”
“Sue is very instinctive; she doesn’t do things slowly,” smiles Tim, who left his job at English Heritage to join the business but insists Sue is “still the boss.”
“I was gradually pulled in without realising until I became project manager. I used to be more hesitant but I’ve learnt from her that if you see an opportunity you have to go for it.”
And, it must be said, three delis in he was rather used to Sue’s gut-feeling tack.
Exhibit one: in 2006, the caterer by trade spotted an empty shop near her home and the maiden Bloomfields delicatessen was born.
Exhibit two: Three years later, in the midst of a recession, she stumbled across yet another vacant unit in Highworth and despite villagers’ scepticism and bare-faced disbelief she set up shop.
She completed the blossoming empire with a small cafe in Watchfield in 2012.
Her now-or-never strategy has been rewarded tenfold over the years with a string of industry awards including Swindon New Business of the Year in 2009, South West regional winner in the Olives Et Al Deli of the Year 2012 competition and third place nationally at the Great Taste Awards in London.
Most recently Bloomfields was named runner-up in the UK Farm Shop & Deli Awards 2015’s Delicatessen of the Year category.
The victory proved even sweeter when Sue discovered she had fought off competition from the likes of TV chef Rick Stein.
This time around though Sue had no intention as such to expand her growing business in Shrivenham.
In fact bucking the trend, she had been carefully mulling over plans to turn her snug Highworth deli into a coffee shop when an explosive combination of a poorly contractor, building delays and the fortuitous find of the empty garage contributed to yet another spontaneous move.
But for the first time, Sue feared she had bitten off more than she could chew, what with repurposing the building and uprooting her deli down the road.
“The day before we opened we were still opening boxes and the paint was still wet,” admits the third-generation shop owner.
“It was a mad rush, none of us knew what we were doing but we pulled it off. The design was all Tim.
“We were so engrossed in the physical side of getting it open that we didn’t really have time to get nervous or worry about whether it was going to succeed. The first two weeks were a bit of a blur.”
From the off the bright and airy coffee shop, with its glass panels and Scandinavian feel, proved a hit with villagers. A separate deli area was tacked on at the back of Bloomfields.
“It’s really popular, it’s fantastic,” beams Tim. “It took us a bit by surprise but it shows the place was needed.”
Just like the other Bloomfields branches, the latest in line offers home-made quiches, pies, sausage rolls and cakes as well as an array of condiments, meats, cheeses and biscuits sourced from local producers.
The pair now plan to host wine and cheese evenings at the coffee shop.
They will soon unveil a summer garden complete with a children’s tea and cake play area.
They may have temporarily put the brakes on a Highworth coffee shop, but they plan to pick the project right where they left off – as soon as they have recovered from the launch of their new Shrivenham venture.
“People in Highworth must be fed up with us saying: ‘It will happen soon’,” says Sue.
“But we’re committed and what we’ve learnt here has made us even more confident about Highworth.
“We will give ourselves a little break and focus our attention here first but we will move on to Highworth soon.”
And there is still the small matter of learning to juggle home life and their new work dynamic. For now, the Belcher household is under a strict ‘shop-talk’ ban; out of business hours at least.
“We have to at least be out of our dressing gowns before we start talking about work,” she laughs.
The new coffee shop is based at 33 High Street, Shrivenham. For more details go to www.bloomfieldsfinefood.co.uk.