Coco di Mama is a quick-service food business, based in the City of London. We serve quality Italian food and coffee to the local office workers
We grew up together and have long shared a passion for cooking and great food – particularly Italian. We were bored of the same old quick-service loop at lunch (Pret, Eat, etc.) and were surprised that there was nobody doing good, quick Italian food. It struck us that if someone could provide high quality, exciting and well-sourced Italian food and coffee at a good price, then they would be on to a good thing!
No matter what the economic climate – and we did not start our business in a particularly favourable one – people have to eat. The quick service food market in London is one of the most competitive and sophisticated in the world, but it is also very exciting. If your concept gives people something new and tasty, whilst offering good value for money and great customer service, then it is one that can succeed.
You will find versions of things we do at other places, but we guarantee they won’t be at the same quality as ours. One thing we do that you won’t find anywhere else though, is our made-to-order pasta. Every day, we serve a huge range of different pastas and sauces – some familiar, some new and exciting – but all of them big on flavour.
We both worked in the corporate world, so there was always going to be some element of “leap” in leaving our stable, secure jobs to pursue our dream, particularly in a sector where the risks are so significant. But for us, it was a no-brainer. Whilst we both enjoyed our previous jobs, and took a huge amount from them, we both shared a passion and wanted to create something of our own. Taking this into account, as well as our age, we thought there was no better time to take a gamble like this.
We undertook a significant amount of research before making any big decisions for the business. There are clear winners and losers in this sector, and we wanted to really get to the bottom of what makes a successful food business. We also went to see anyone we could think of who might give us some relevant advice. We spoke to people who knew about the property market, the quick-service food industry, potential future customers, as well as getting general business advice. Given that we were sacrificing a great deal, we wanted to be sure of the opportunity for ourselves.
We found suppliers through a whole range of methods. There are plenty of great internet resources that we used, whilst trade fairs and farmers markets also provided a good contact base for us to work with. We spent a long time driving up and down the country (and in Italy), meeting people, tasting food and working out how best to create an attractive customer proposition.
We are based on a very competitive patch of Fleet Street, so sometimes you have to shout quite loudly to get heard. Whilst we were building the store, we put out some really eye-catching images, as well as a launch promo for a free lunch. We made good on our promise and in two days, gave away nearly 1000 bowls of pasta! As well as being great fun, this also really helped drive awareness and get customers trying our great-tasting food. In our industry, word of mouth is so important, and this has helped us a great deal. By ensuring that every customer we serve gets the true Coco treatment, we have lots of promoters in all our local offices!
Nothing at Coco costs more than a fiver. We worked hard to make this the case and, whilst it sometimes it difficult to sustain, it has been important given the climate we launched in. Above all, we offer great value for money, which is what our customers are looking for.
We have a great young team at Coco, all of whom share our vision for the business. There are about ten of us in total, and we all really feel part of something new and exciting. We regularly meet and discuss any issues that there might be within the team, so although it is never plain sailing, we are constantly improving the way we all work together.
We have had a great start to our business life. We are busy every day and this has only increased since we started in April. More encouragingly, however, is that we are well ahead of where we thought we would be at this stage. This bodes very well for the future.
Managing the balance is clearly tricky, and we are still getting the hang of it. Fortunately for us, we have a very supportive family and group of friends, who are always ready to help out. Indeed, we have had friends, girlfriends and even our mums helping out in store!
There have been a fair few obstacles to setting up the business. Whilst you would think that helping new businesses should be a government priority at the moment, there has not been much from a regulatory and support point of view that has helped us. Indeed the VAT hike has been a big burden on us. Understanding where the red tape occurs and working hard to mitigate the delays caused by it has been a really key learning curve for us.
The first real milestone was getting the store open. We overcame so many hurdles, which at the time seemed completely unassailable, that the day we opened the store (after a somewhat sleepless week beforehand) was one of the proudest of our lives.
Although we cannot say that we haven’t made a mistake, we have learnt a huge amount along the way – much of it derived from mistakes we made.
There is a real temptation to think that the work starts on the day that you begin trading, but for us, the work that we put into the planning and research phase of the business has helped us to achieve what we have so far. It is easy to overlook this phase, but it is critical that you work just as hard in setting up the business as you do when you are fully operational. The decisions you make during this phase pave the way for any future success.
The other piece of advice is: constantly seek advice. There is so much experience available, and generally people are more than happy to share it. You only have to go to the trouble of seeking it out. There were meetings we had that we can pinpoint now as moments that helped shape our business.
This is a tricky one. We are working so hard to serve great food to the people of Fleet Street that it is hard to picture where we go from here. Clearly if there is demand for what we are doing in other locations, we would not ignore it, but for the moment our focus remains on continuing to serve great food to our loyal customers, as well as winning more customers every day.