Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Let's Get Down to Business: Vivienne Jane Lee, Chocolate Cafe

Let's Get Down to Business: Vivienne Jane Lee, Chocolate Cafe

VIVIENNE JANE LEE is the owner of the Chocolate Café in Thames Side,
Henley. Born in Liverpool, she lived in various parts of the country before
coming to Henley in 2011 and opening the business. In the last year, she has opened two more Chocolate Cafés in Goring and at Holme Grange Craft Centre in Wokingham. She has a daughter Lydia, 25, and son Kali, 21, who both work in the business.

Describe your business

The Chocolate Cafés are café/restaurants serving breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea as well as a range of wonderful cakes, all of which are created in-house, and more than 20 hot chocolates made with real chocolate.

How many people does it employ?

With the three cafés, we now have more than 45 staff.

What did you do before you started this business?

After graduating from Salford University, I worked in human resources for Bass in Nottingham. I then went to live in Builth Wells in Wales and was involved in social work and became qualified in massage and reflexology. Around that time I began to invest in residential property, which I have done ever since. In fact, I eventually became a mortgage advisor. Prior to opening the Henley café I managed a similar café in Windsor.

When did you start your business?

I’ve worked for myself since 1995 but opened my first café in 2011.

What was your objective?

I’m not sure I had one. It just seemed to evolve.

What or who influenced you?

In 1997, Gary Connery encouraged me to become self-employed. He has a successful career as a TV/film stunt man and is best known for skydiving in a wingsuit without deploying a parachute and being “the Queen” at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.

Do you have a mentor or role model?

Yes. He is Steve Prior and he has become my commercial director. He has taught me so much and is my hero!

What would you do differently if you were starting again?

I would have got my finances straight from the outset and worked harder at understanding the fundamentals, especially cashflow.

How is your business?

Because of the really bad winter with so much rain and snow, we are well down compared with the same time last year. However, that only applies to the café in Henley, which is a major tourist destination and so is affected by the weather. Fortunately, Wokingham and Goring are doing extremely well. Now we’ve seen some lovely warm sunshine I’m sure Henley will pick up fast.

Do you compare figures on a regular basis?

Yes, I look at the numbers all the time. My dad taught me a lot about spreadsheets and money. When I was young he encouraged me to get part-time work to earn and save some money, so I worked in a wine bar. He would then double what I’d saved. It taught me a great deal about how to respect and manage money and to keep track of what I was earning and what I was spending. This is why I became a property investor while I was still fairly young.

How do you market your business?

We use social media extensively — Facebook and Trip
Advisor. Our website is updated regularly. We have a loyalty card and a VIP club (www.chocolatecafehenley.
co.uk/VIP-list). Our business cards have a QR code which can be easily read by a smartphone, enabling people to sign up while at the café.

What’s the best thing about running your own business?

Freedom and flexibility.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

Honestly, I never think in terms of challenges, only in terms of solutions. There are often things that crop up that need to be overcome but that’s what running a business is all about.

Do you have a five-year plan?

I’d like to open more Chocolate Cafés and I’d like to help other people to do the same, so I’m thinking of building some kind of co-operative as the businesses develop. I feel that I could educate people who run restaurants how to stay in business.

How important are online sales?

Very. They have become a huge part of our business.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

How to make a profit!

What advice would you offer someone starting a business?

Finances and cashflow are critical so get it right from the beginning.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

Paying too much for a business.

How organised are you?

Incredibly so.

What’s the secret of your success?


What qualities are most important to becoming a success?

Some good business acumen. Looking after people, production and profits.

How do you dress for work each day?

I just put clothes on!

What can’t you do/be without every day?

A hug. Four years ago I found a faith and I believe in God, so I pray and say hello to God every day.

Do you continue to study?

All the time — I’m a great believer in personal development.

What do you read?

Motivational self-development books.

How are you planning for retirement?

My partner and I would really like to travel a lot so I want to get to the point where I can take an income from the business without having to be involved on a daily basis.

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