Baked, located on a sunny corner of Church Road in Hove, is a beloved destination for breakfast, brunch, and delightful light bites. Their brunches draw locals and visitors alike, offering a taste of ethical and sustainable dining. Colin, the owner, shares his remarkable journey from Food Safety and Quality In-flight Delivery Manager to successful hove cafe owner in our interview. Discover more about his experiences, challenges, and the ethos behind Baked, a cherished spot emphasising quality and sustainability in the hospitality industry in our beautiful city.
Tell us about your career?
When I was 14 I was working in the local Scottish hotel, at 19 I was promoted to assistant manager. I moved south to work for Airtours International Airways as a flight attendant where I worked for 10 years. I then moved to Virgin Atlantic as crew and eventually went into F&B as a food safety & quality manager. My role was to inspect global food safety and quality, assess and improve where needed, I flew all over the world testing and assessing the Virgin Altantic food and beverage. I was responsible for absolutely everything that went onboard for the customer, from teaspoon to toilet roll.
To give you an idea, there are roughly 17k individual items that need to be loaded on every single flight.
Each item has to be weighed as well, to make sure the aircraft is not overloaded. Not only that, but if the weight is acceptable, the size may not be, not every aircraft has the same storage capacity and not every storage can accommodate everything – it’s a big puzzle and it was my job to fit it all together.
Tell us more about your role as the Food Safety and Quality In-flight Delivery Manager
I had to work to a very strict cost and weight budget. You could have the crew saying they need bigger portions of a chicken meal. Multiplied by 300 customers on an average flight, times that by 30 daily flights over 3 a month period + the cost of the equipment, additional weight on the aircraft. It’s a lot of product and cost.
Airline catering is super complicated, every item is weighed as all the galleys have weight restrictions for each stowage.
The more weight onboard, more fuel is needed which impacts the cost of operating the flight. This is why they physically cannot have enough of everything for everyone all the time. 300 passengers choosing between 2 meals, would mean 600 meals and 300 wasted, which isn’t practical or ethical.
In business class we would add some additional meals to make sure everyone had options they paid extra for. But if you load 1 more meal on every flight, after a year of flying that is a huge spend.
One year we didn’t load the mini bags of pretzels that came with drinks and we saved over £3 million pounds.
Another thing about the role was how eye opening it was and realising people have different standards of food safety around the world.
India for instance had super high standards when it came to their F&B. There was a woman who would sit in a glass phone booth, completely separated from everyone just cracking eggs to ensure there would be no cross contamination.
In Dubai a single woman would tend a especially made machine that had 12 frying pans attached making omelettes, and it was her job to flip them.
She would flip thousands of omelettes day every day for hundreds of flights and thousands of passengers, human innovation was fascinating.
Then I decided I wanted to stop flying for work and I opened Baked, that was nearly 9 years ago now.
How did the idea for Baked come about?
Basically I baked as a hobby and talked about opening a coffee shop for years.
Then I got to my 40s and I decided I need to do something about it, or I need to stop talking about it.
I only live a few mins away from Baked and one day I saw the lease was up and I bit the bullet and took the plunge. The concept came from baking my own cakes and wanting to sell them….But I have to be honest, I have not baked one cake in 9 years since opening. Not even for friends or family!
Do you miss the baking?
I really enjoyed it as a hobby, I collected loads of American cake books and tried American recipes over here, a lot of cakes in the USA that are very different, and part of the fun was finding the ingredients while I was working for Virgin, things like corn-syrup, fondants, using oils instead of butter, ideas and recipes that you wouldn’t find here. British baking is really different to American baking, they love their super sweet flavours and there is just so much variety, I was always like a kid in a candy shop in American supermarket baking sections.
Baked has a wonderful neighbourhood feel to it, describe your relationship with your regulars and what is your ethos here?
We have the most amazing relationship with our regulars, we know them by name, they know us by name, sometimes we see them 2-3 times a day.
The relationship doesn’t stop at Baked either, if one of our customers needs something doing, we are part of their support system.
We have elderly neighbours that we look after a bit, and help them keep in touch with their own families too.
Our regulars are the bread and butter of the business, and I had no idea it was going to be like this.
When we opened I thought we would make coffee and cake, and it was a surprise to me that we would get so involved in our customers lives for birthdays, anniversaries, sadly when they pass away as well. Baked is a meeting place where locals know that they are bound to run into someone they know. We have a few tables that we know our regulars love so we reserve them in the morning, and it may start with one person, but after an hour 6 more have joined them to socialise and catch up.
They know that if they pop in they will always have someone to talk to, whether it’s a team member or another local.
We know what they love, their drink, their favourite meal, but sometimes it throws us off when we see them coming so we make their coffee and they decide on a tea instead. We laugh with them about it, and they love feeling remembered, wanted, and thought of.
What do you look for in a person when they join the Baked team?
Someone who is genuinely kind, you can train someone to carry a tray, and to hold three plates, but you can’t train kindness and true hospitality.
Whenever I interview people I always ask ‘What is your first instinct if you see a Mum with a buggy at the door? Or an elderly person struggling with something’
If their first instinct isn’t to help, and accommodate them, then it isn’t a good fit. At Baked we value hospitality, giving genuine kind service, and anticipating what people want and need. Hospitality isn’t about making a perfect latte, it’s about giving great service, being kind to people, and making them feel welcome and wanted.
We have so many people who come to Baked because they know we genuinely care.
We might be the only person they speak to today and find out about them and their life, it enriches you as a person and you have to see value in that to understand the ethos at Baked.
How has Baked evolved since its inception?
So basically when we opened we had a small selection of breakfasts, baked goods, pastries and bread. (None of which I baked, ha!) At the beginning I wanted to have bakery classes, but that never happened because we were just too busy. We just needed more space.
From the moment we opened we just hit the ground running, which was exciting.
At first we only had 8-10 hot food items on the menu and we quickly realised that our hot food was really popular and that customers wanted more and more choices. We have continued to evolve that menu with our main food offering now is breakfast and brunch. I am forever trying new things and adding new items, but once people get their favourite dish it’s hard to tempt them with something new.
Customers like to have ‘their’ dish, and it gives them comfort.
I maybe shouldn’t say this, but I feel like Baked is like a cosy pair of slippers. Comfortable and familiar. Our regulars come here because they know they are going to get exactly what they want. It’s a comforting feeling going into a familiar place where you know what to expect, and most regulars just want to eat and drink what they love, and that’s fine by us.
A great example is the lovely Jane who comes in all the time, she is in her eighties and she always wants a specific table. Sometimes she will arrive a bit early for her reservation and the table is still occupied, the second the table is free, you have never seen an 80 year old move so quick.
But it makes her day to have her favourite spot, we are just pleased it’s with us.
Is there a moment in your career that stands out above the rest?
There were a few when I worked with Virgin Atlantic. At that time VA had the government charter and they offered bespoke flights, that would fly to places VA never normally flew to. Once we were flying back from Perth on a government charter, which we had spent weeks preparing for as we were arriving into a fairly obscure middle-eastern destination. Everything was set and prepared for arrival. Just after take off I got the call that we were actually diverting to a different destination, and they asked if I could arrange last minute catering for the plane’s 250 higher government officials. I didn’t have a choice but to get on the headset to our caterer in Dubai and organise everything from the air en route. We touched down and managed to turn it all around in the short layover with no preparation.
Afterwards the British government officially thanked us with a trip to 10 Downing street, where I sat in the Prime Minister’s chair in the COBRA room. A true highlight.
Another one was having the Prime Minister on board, which is always a big deal. With the PM there is a rule where only a few crew are allowed to walk past him. I forgot the rule and walked past in my striped pyjama bottoms and a white t- shirt, (which made me look a bit like a chef), the PM stopped me for a chat about the food on flight.
We got to talking and he invited me to join him, so I sat down and had a chat with David Cameron in my PJs, talking about everything except politics.
Definitely something you don’t forget.
Who has inspired you along the way?
My family and friends are my inspiration. They have always been there for me. supporting me through the highs & lows and continue to do so. Most importantly they are always honest with me, if they think something is not right they will tell me. Their honesty is the most important thing to me.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Lockdown hands down. The fear and the initial not understanding what was happening, the reality of potentially losing the business, and worry for my 18 staff. The uncertainty was so hard, even with the re-opening, it felt like there was a change every day. We were adapting as quickly as we could, but no one knew what was happening, and there was so much conflicting information.
I was afraid for my business, and my staff losing their jobs.
Tell us about the challenges facing hospitality today?
I would say that the cost of living crisis is definitely affecting sales across all industries, but the hospitality industry is seriously feeling a change. I am part of a hospitality community Whatsapp group and everyone is seeing a change in customer spending habits. There is also the labour shortages and the constant price changes, which are so hard to explain to customers.
We are faced with daily price changes from some of our suppliers.
Customers are looking for an experience when they come out for a meal, there is so much more to it than just the food and service. The design of a restaurant, background music, air conditioning in the summer, outdoor heaters in the winter etc, these all come at significant cost. Where people used to get a coffee and a juice with their breakfast, they are opting for one or the other. It might not seem like a lot, but over a month that is a considerable drop in sales.
Bottles of wine are changing to glasses, and the whole hospitality industry is feeling it.
What needs to change to help hospitality thrive and what are you doing at Baked to adapt to current conditions?
I think that whoever is in government needs to really look at how they can support hospitality. Hospitality isn’t just a cafe or a pub, it’s a life line to the community and people need a place where they can feel welcomed and can socialise now more than ever. During Covid we saw how removing social spaces from our community seriously impacted everyone.
Hospitality is resilient, but the ever increasing costs do take their toll. Most customers don’t realise that before the cafe sees a penny 20% goes to the government for vat. Then we get charged for absolutely everything, from putting a sign on the street, to playing music..
It costs upwards from £1600 just for a music licence, A reduction of the VAT would really help the industry.
How important is the team at Baked to its continuing success?
Every member of staff in our Hove cafe is key. Everyone in my eyes has their role to play, every single member is equal because without each of them playing their part we couldn’t operate.
Your staff is the MOST important part of your business.
My team is incredible, they are honest and hard working, and they love our customers which is so important.
What is next for Colin and Baked?
I would say to continually evolve and just stay on top of things as the goal posts change. I am not content to just let things be, I am always looking at ways we can try new things and improve.
What is the one, most important, piece of advice you would give to an aspiring hospitality business owner?
Stay involved in your business. To truly understand how it’s working you need to be there, and be present. You need to understand your customers, you need to understand your staff, and you need to be able to empathise with their problems.
The moment you step away you no longer have a true idea of what the customers want or what the team are dealing with.
Plus customers expect to see you, as you are part of the reason they come in. Now Im not saying never take a holiday, but taking a holiday and walking away completely are very different.
I have a brilliant team that I trust implicitly and I feel comfortable knowing they can manage pretty much anything that comes up.
Plus I think you have to allow them to make mistakes so they can grow and learn too. I have seen other owners step away and only pop in once or twice, then pick fault with everything. It’s not good for your mental health and its hard on your team.
After lockdown we extended our outdoor seating area round the side of the building. One day I came in and the team were calling it Eastbourne. I laughed and was confused and they explained that the distance from the kitchen to the seats was practically walking to Eastbourne. So on a busy Saturday I worked the section myself, and they were right, it was crazy hard work and could have really started to tire everyone out if we didn’t find a new plan. Because I experienced it with them, they knew I am one of them and that we would find a solution.
How has your marketing evolved and is there any advice you can offer hospitality business owners?
My advice would be to accept that marketing has changed significantly. Advertising in magazines, newspapers or books is just not warranted anymore.
For cafes, restaurants, and pubs it’s all about social media and having an online presence.
And not just any social media will do, it’s also about engagement and getting all the content right, have it on brand, and keeping it relevant.
You need consistent social media to stay in people’s minds.
My advice is that if social media is not something that comes natural to you, employ people who can do it for you.
I realised the importance of social media after I hired my Social Media Manager when customers started coming in and showing me a picture of what they wanted to order. I never thought the response would be so immediate, but my SMM would post in the morning and by lunch I would have people asking for the dish, it was so immediate.
Social media has changed how we reach customers and I think every single business needs it.
Without it you are staying in the dark ages. I am crap at painting so I hire a painter, same thing for social media, so I employ someone to do it.