Our world changed 20 years ago today, the day we got the keys to 103 (Centotre) George Street, Edinburgh.
It was the right time for Victor and I to leave his family business so we could look after our tiny babies. Our new family created the opportunity for change and the people around us gave us the courage to carry it out.
Choosing to start anything new is daunting. When you and your husband have remortgaged your home, with two children under two it takes an element of madness to start a business. Another little girl was to arrive within a year. So much for being told we couldn’t have children. Necessity is the mother of invention but the invention came with a host of people. The faith others had in us was the ingredient that allowed us to start.
20 years ago we all had our cornflakes (or muesli) at home. Breakfast meetings didn’t happen. To be able to pay the rent, the vision needed to cover all bases. Capturing all parts of the market we’d open from 8am to Midnight. Our bacon roll was served and our George Street Irn Bru, (what you now call an Aperol Spritz struggled to take off) but Prosecco was the new thing. In 2005/6, you drank more Bisol Prosecco than they exported to Germany. True.
The challenges of getting through a day never mind a week when you are a young family business are tough. I wish we had the team that we now have as the early days would have been better for everyone but we did our best. Trying to train for breakfast, lunch, dinner seven days a week at times felt almost impossible. We’ve achieved a lot but there have been sacrifices that we don’t talk about. Having your house as collateral for the loan you needed was always on our minds. Victor worked 6 days and nights a week for over 16 years, there was a lot of family time that we missed. I was late for almost every drop off, pick up and party. Our children can laugh now but there was no shortage of tears along the way.
The economies of scale were in our favour. The unit was too small for one of the national operators and too big for alternative uses.
I’ve forgotten the many obstacles that we had to jump to eventually open.
Convincing the landlords, then Merill Lynch, that we were a sound proposition was the first. We’d already spent a quarter of our total budget before we’d even signed the papers. Speculation grew into determination. We couldn’t afford to walk away. A lesson in later life we learnt at a huge cost but that’s another restaurant story.
Convincing the bank, when your husband is on garden leave and you’re 4 months pregnant, was the next. RBS had match funding which we qualified for. Pre banking crisis there was a lot of money being offered. They later said, off the record, if they’d know I was pregnant we probably wouldn’t have got the loan. Woman in business, again that’s another story.
Vision secured, money secured, venue secured, it was time to get the builders in for the fitout. A strict twelve week programme, now unheard of, under critical cost scrutiny, allowed us to pass the finishing line.
Enormous thanks to Ian McKee, building surveyor, at GLM who’s friendship and time went above and beyond. His wife and our friend Sharon initially shared that the building was on the market. The start of the dream. David Johnson’s architectural design has served us well since then. Guy Thorley contractual support on the lease. Fraser Campbell of Azets provided accountancy skills that we’re still using today. My brothers Cesidio (ICiacca) and John Mark Di Ciacca were there in the background. Ignite designed our logo. My nephew Laurence Di Sotto (Woolkind) and his siblings provided much support both in terms of ideas and babysitting. Something that can’t be taken for granted. Victor’s mum and dad were a huge support, both sadly no longer with us. I wish I had the people skills I’ve developed to have been wise enough to manage our early team differently. So many things you don’t get trained and only learn from making mistakes. I can say I’m better for having made a lot of mistakes.
Self doubt is usually the most generous asset we all have. The “Yes you can” (No 1 son was obsessed with Bob the Builder and at 2 yo came on site with his hardhat and tool box) people that seem to know your strengths better than you know your own, allowed our dream to flourish.
As an ex surveyor the support from that business community was a gift to get us trading. They helped drink the majority of the Prosecco.
Mike Coulter of Edinburgh Coffee Morning without a doubt helped us establish our morning meeting reputation. The techies that would meet to discuss the latest Apple product, new social media platforms (Linkedin and Twitter) or marketing strategy blossomed from an initial group of 3 to numbers sometimes up to 40.
The team at Loud & Clear who recommended Swiss Jazz are thought of everyday.
When we initially opened there was no social media. Marketing word of mouth or reviews from journalists that could make or break you. Joanna Blythman of the Herald and Donald Ried of the List helped us do better. PR came in the form of Kenny Farquarson (Times) and others who brilliantly stalked us to get a story.
We were overwhelmed for the first few years. Enthusiasm, adrenalin, fear of failure and raw courage got us to where we are. Luck too? Who knows!
We missed not having a stronger board to support decisions. We’ve learnt the hard way. Caroline Miller, who’s been our internal accountant for 19 years has provided unmeasurable wisdom.
It would have been good if we’d had more time, with deeper pockets, to make better decisions. I’ve stopped beating myself up about the mistakes and started to celebrate the successes. We’re still here and we’re old, wiser and calmer.
From the Kerly’s, George Dale, The Angoves, Carol Graham, Mrs Alinson, Mrs Gilchrist, the Crombies, the MacDonalds, Peter Lederer, Alex Culverwell and too many to mention, thank you.
We couldn’t have gotten there without the support of all our customers. Thank you. This family business is so very grateful. There will be many that we’ve never said thank you, thank you. If you’ve not been to see us for a wee while, pop in, I hope you’ll see that we’ve learned. I believe we’re better than we were when we started, thanks to all of you.