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Gathered Experiences: The Pigeon Hole Cafe

Our new feature, Gathered Experiences, takes a look behind the scenes of like minded businesses, projects and brands that we love at Gather&See. We hope you will find the insights of these wonderful pioneers and innovators inspiring and eye opening. It is all about discovery!

First up is the story of the wonderful Pigeon Hole Cafe in Camberwell, London.  Friends Holly and George set up The Pigeon Hole in 2012. Here is the story of behind the brand in Holly's words:

The Beginnings

"The Pigeon Hole is a café and second-hand furniture shop located in the heart of South London’s Camberwell. We serve the best of local produce and become a small cocktail bar in the evening. 

We met a long time ago at Art College, both training in the theatre arts. When we left our degrees we both worked for fairly high profile theatre companies and over the years the concept of owning a cafe had been discussed. We both loved good, simple food and drink and that romantic ideal of the local regular where you can pick up your daily cup of coffee, and the desire to take a space and make it our own. 

In 2012 we had both reached an all time low.  I had been unemployed for 6 months having been churning out job application after job application. George had taken on 2 highly stressful jobs at once to try and make ends meat and had run herself into the ground.  It sometimes requires you to hit rock bottom to sit back and re-evaluate what you actually want from life and what we both agreed our current situation wasn’t it.

We had worked creatively together continually over the previous 6 years and we knew we had a good working relationship together. It really felt like a now or never situation and we decided that it was time to take life by the horns and go for it… and try not to think about what could go wrong!"

Getting Going 

"Having decided that opening a café could be a viable option for us we both went home over Christmas 2012 and chewed the idea over with our families. Having looked at the basic costs we needed to start our venture it became very clear that we needed to be creative with how we raised the capital.

My Dad had recently come across the crowd funding website Kickstarter having heard about it on BBC radio. He put it to us that this could be the avenue we go down. 

We very quickly started to seek business advice from various people and began to construct a business plan which then helped to build our Kickstarter profile. We launched the Kickstarter campaign in Spring 2013 and miraculously raised £21,000 in 30 days!  

We had initially launched our Kickstarter campaign whilst negotiating a lease for a premises on Camberwell High Street. Unfortunately this fell through just before we hit our target which meant when we were fully funded we had nowhere to open the café.

We actually went through 5 different premises in Camberwell over the next year before we found the one we are currently in.  The pressure on us to open was immense as we had over 200 kickstarter supporters watching our every move and wanting to see where their generous donations were going to. 

Once we signed for our current premises it was probably the most exciting and also the most terrifying day of our lives. All of a sudden our dream had become a reality but at the same time we now had to live up to everyone elses expectations!"

The Joys and Challenges of Running A Business

"Unlike a lot of new shop owners the actual construction and design of the café was a breeze as we were both experienced in design and set building. 

Neither of us had any experience of working in hospitality or in a high street store and, although the basic skills like making coffee and cooking food in a commercial environment were picked up fairly quickly, understanding customer trends and dealing with the financial aspect of the business has been and continues to be a challenge.

Having said this, although it can be stressful it is the challenge we were looking for when we started this venture and we both feel we’re becoming better businesswomen as time goes on.

This is an achievement we are both very proud of.  

These days we spend most of our time together. I think in some ways we are closer than before as we are perhaps more tolerant and more sensitive to each other’s emotions and needs. This is an integral part of running a business together as if we weren’t able to work harmoniously together it would inevitably feed into the atmosphere of the café.

We have very little time off outside the café and we don’t tend to see much of each other during these times, which I think is probably healthy. As time goes on and our work/life balance starts to even out a little more I am sure this will change. 

The day-to-day running of the business is probably the most pleasurable part of running our own business. Interacting with our customers, preparing and serving food and drink that we have put a lot of love into and coming across new and exciting local producers that we can showcase on our menu. Having full control of how everything is run and adapting the business when we see fit. We’re no closer to being millionaires than we were before but we are certainly much happier! 

The great thing about the café is that the space itself offers up so many options for us in terms of future plans. Long term we’d like to develop our second-hand furniture side further. Short term we are looking at more pop-up events, hosting different workshops and exhibitions and getting stuck into more community initiatives."

Most Importantly.... The Food

"We make food that we would like to eat. I think we have a good balance of healthy and ‘unhealthy’. When people eat out and spend their hard earned money they want to feel like they are treating themselves. For me a treat can be a salad full of goodness and also it can be a really stringy cheese toastie or bacon buttie covered in ketchup. What we do make a point of is that all our produce is of a very high quality (free range/outdoor bred/organic) and is made with the same amount of love and passion as we put into our own business. 

As far as has been possible everything we sell is from the immediate area. It has been the best decision we ever made to set our selves this challenge as we have met so many amazing people who make incredible produce and we continue to search for new produce to bring to our Camberwell customers."

The Pigeon Hole Cafe: The Pigeon Hole Cafe 2 Datchelor place, SE5 7AP



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