4 May 2015

Chickpea, Tomato and Quinoa Dahl

Lunch for Tuesday 5th May 2015, this gorgeous tasting, Chickpea, Tomato and Quinoa Dahl! Presented in a bowl for £2.70, at the time of writing and presented with a poppadom on the side. I have been told many times that I should charge more but I want to make healthy food accessible for all, I want to inspire people to eat like this at home too! People love my cooking but I am not a naturally great cook, the way I cook is to make it as easy as possible for myself, whatever I make is easy to emulate, I promise. Lots of the ingredients we use in our dishes, I stock on our shelves for you to take home and make it for yourself. These prices too are kept as low as I possibly can.

Since around the beginning of March, we have introduced a Daily Dish of the Day in our Shepton Mallet shop, I kept turning people away for lunch and didn't want to do sandwiches. Then one day a beautiful Vegan couple turned up in my shop, they love playing Bananagram, so I got one in for them and maybe that was when they realised I might be open to gentle persuasion. That lovely couple are now a family of three and have completely convinced me to keep cooking Vegan lunches for Shepton Mallet.

I am NOT a vegan myself but what inspires me to keep cooking these vegan dishes? Well, there are several things, I do enjoy challenges and cooking something Vegan and making it look and smell so tasty that even meat eaters will buy it, try it and come back for me, is pretty exciting for me! Our business is based on sustainability, the vegetarian and vegan way of eating is much better for the earth and we are already committed to our business being 100% suitable for vegetarians, there is just less harm done to our world when animal products are avoided and I have to say that all the Vegans I've met so far seem to look fit, healthy and slender. I don't know if that's because they have to keep saying, 'No, I can't eat that, no, sorry, can't eat that', or whether it could be the discipline they show in saying no to certain products, extends over into their own health and self-control. I can't imagine a Vegan person sitting down and just deciding to stuff their face with raw cane sugar, even if it is entirely suitable for vegans. Vegan eating in general fits in with Paleo style diets, apart from the slabs of protein made out of cows or pigs that Paleo eating encourages us to have on our plate. I also like the idea of conscious, mindful eating, of having standards and sticking to them, it appeals to me. If you are going to eat animals, then at least call them by their proper names and don't suddenly change a pig to bacon and a cow to beef, it's silly and a cover up of the truth.

I like the way that these dishes I am creating are nearly always gluten-free, they are always made from scratch, no pre-made sauces, or additives, certainly not bought in from a manufacturer and passed off as my own! My dishes are always great for Slimming World members because they are usually SYN FREE! I am proud of that. That's why I wrote it in big letters. They are not so synfree though, if I have cooked something with tinned coconut milk in, so always check with me first! They are always dairy free too and packed with protein. I don't eat dairy or gluten myself, I feel so much better for it, healthier, fitter and slimmer, so it's easy for me to make those kinds of lunches for everyone else. The other thing is my partner Gunter is diabetic, so I am very aware that foods of a low to medium GI are better for all of us, not just for diabetic people.

The great thing about these Vegan, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Slimming World friendly lunches, is that they embrace people from all cultures, people who have to follow all kinds of restrictions in their diets, people that want to eat healthily, well, tastily and sensibly! I like it when people connect together and these vegan lunches are doing exactly that! Imagine going somewhere to eat where there is NO menu, there is only one dish on offer and that is Dish of the Day! I love seeing people that don't know each other, sitting down to enjoy the same food and people that do know each other and are coming out as a family or as friends sit down and share the same food, it's very, very special. The whole way of doing this means I don't ever have to throw food away. Why ever did we think it was such a good idea to have so many choices in what we eat in restaurants? This way that I am discovering for myself is leaner, greener, healthier and proving to be very popular!

Here are the ingredients that I used in the Chickpea, Tomato and Quinoa Lunch, so you can check through them. Allergens are in bold.

Onion from the Friday Market
Garlic from the Friday Market
Ginger from My Coffee Stop
Tomatoes from the Friday Market
Tinned Tomatoes from My Coffee Stop
Cumin from Peppers
Coriander from Peppers
Turmeric from Peppers
Chilli flakes from Peppers
Yeast Extract from My Coffee Stop
Spinach Leaves from Aldi
Fresh Coriander Leaves from Aldi
Cashew Nut Butter from My Coffee Stop
Quinoa from My Coffee Stop
Kallo Yeast Free Stock Cube from My Coffee Stop, (Contains Celery)
Chick Peas from My Coffee Stop
Leek from the Friday Market
Celery from the Friday Market.

So come along and taste it for yourself, or make it for yourself!

2 February 2015

An Open Letter to Emma and the #LoveYourDoorstep team in #Enfield

Pathway towards Gentleman's Row, Enfield Chase.

Dear Emma and the +Love Your Doorstep team,

I am writing to let you know that after the ups and downs of the last few years, I have had a complete change of heart and would please like the opportunity to be an Lyds business.

Firstly, I would like to apologise for comments I have made, that I felt were my true opinion at the time but have caused upset and grief for you. I did not intend this at all and I am truly sorry. Having been off work for a while, due to illness, has given me plenty of time to mull over things and just two weeks after making some more negative comments about Love Your Doorstep in a Facebook conversation, I have looked at myself and the situation and I would dearly love to make amends and try to heal the hurt that I have caused. I really do not want to leave this mess behind in my life, please allow me the opportunity to make it better again.
It was the Facebook post that got me thinking. The negativity of the post made me intrigued, so, I checked your website and twitter feed and my opinion has changed. I can see that you have developed the business into so much more than a Facebook group.

It took me a long time to get used to the changes in the group in the beginning and it clashed for me that it was a free community and then changed into one where you had to pay to join as a business. But actually, Emma, you have created a visionary and completely new business model. I've been doing a lot of thinking. I think you have had to put your foot down and create strong boundaries because it is easy for friendship, kindness and business to get all mixed up. Like if people come into my shop, start chatting, don't want a coffee but are just saying 'hello' as a friend, taking my time and energy away from when I'm working. I feel I want to give stuff to them because they are my friend but on the other hand, if I run my business like that, I won't have one.I didn't really get this for ages, until there was some distance between myself and Enfield.

Your Twitter feed is strong and you have worked hard in building up strong links within the Enfield community, such as with the FSB, Enterprise Enfield and so on.

I have always respected your talent and vision, Emma but I found the new changes and rules very difficult, I can be fairly rigid in that respect due to my asperger way of thinking.

I think when we are angry, or emotional, we react rather than respond and I've been reacting all over the place.

Looking again at Lyds from a distance, it is incredible what you have done. The designs are really slick, the website works well on my phone, I love the shopping campaign stickers and the blogging area on the website is cool too. I have to say, I really have changed my mind.

Last year, I had too much Lyds from friends all over my timeline, I felt strangely emotional about posts where Lyds showed a film at The Dugdale Centre and about when they went to parliment. I felt left out and pissed off. But it was Lyds that did that work, not me and looking back on it now, I think I was upset because I was jealous. I didn't realise at the time.

I was so emotional and upset with all the posts, I then decided to delete any of my Facebook friends that were too enthusiastic about Lyds, to preserve my sanity, I deleted all of the enthusiastic ones and that felt better, until I realised that I had hurt some of them. The whole thing has been very difficult for me. I even started not to enjoy the Ideas Station, my social media workshops for women because every time the question would come up about whether I thought Lyds was good or not, I'd try to go for a bland, 'I wouldn't use it for my business but it does work well for other businesses', approach. Or the 'If you're not good at social media, it could be good for you.'. Or 'I don't recommend it but some businesses love it.'. I could never get away with a brushaway comment, to avoid my discomfort. The rest of the meeting would sometimes dissolve into a heated debate about Lyds and not about solving social media problems. It was embarrassing and took the motivation away for me to continue.

Now, I want to support what you are doing. Maybe some people will find that inconsistent, maybe hypocritical but I am proud to admit, actually, I am wrong I've made lots and lots of mistakes. Yes, I have changed my mind. I want people to know because this has been such a public affair and I want to help to heal the hurt.

People have seen me as one of the biggest ringleaders of the 'we don't like lyds' brigade.......I didn't want to be that. Emma, you and your team are running a never done before concept business, I had no patience and didn't make allowances for the learning curve involved.

The comments I made on Facebook two weeks or so ago sound bitchy, when I reread them, at the time they felt honest and truthful.  However, having taken another look, Lyds is actually something that is working well in these extremely difficult economic times and I realise there is a core of businesses who are repeat customers because it works.

I didn't even realise that you have a job board, I have a part time job that I would love to advertise on there.
I've made a lot of mistakes in dealing with this situation and it's all been fairly public. I am not afraid to say, my attitude has been wrong.

It is time for me and others in our community to give you, Lyds the respect that you deserve.

I am all for campaigning and for economic justice and have changed a few negative things in the world. Lyds is not a negative, it doesn't need a campaign against it, however inadvertently that situation has arisen and it doesn't need an emotional response.

If you don't want our business, I don't blame you but I just thought it fair to publicly share my change of heart.
I hope that together, we can build bridges, not walls.

I am very, very sorry for the way that I have been and I really would like the opportunity to support your concept, if you can ever, please forgive me.

Yours Most Sincerely and Hopefully,
Karen Mercer. xxxx

16 November 2014

Free Coffee at Waitrose!

A gorgeous cappuccino, created with love, Fairtrade and Organic by My Coffee Stop!

Update January 31st 2015


This blog entry was originally written in November 2014. Waitrose, though, have just recently announced that their Free Coffee offer had ended but the message was confusing. Gunter and myself were told by several customers and even a member of staff at +Waitrose that free coffees would be ending in February of this year. So, it seems that customers are understanding that they can't get their usual free takeaway coffee at Waitrose and even some staff have misunderstood. 

Now, I don't know if this was a deliberate ploy on the part of Waitrose, to give out a confusing message that would be misconstrued, so that most customers wouldn't bother trying to get their free coffee and if anyone did complain, or get upset, it could gently be explained to them that the free takeaway coffee offer is still actually available. So, only the complainers would get free coffee and the others would taper off, which means that Waitrose manage to keep the most vocal of their customers happy and get massive PR and headlines at the same time, perfect manipulation of the media and fogging of the issue. Then, when they announce, later in their game plan, that free takeaway coffees are now being stopped, they will get even more headlines! 

I couldn't quite believe the headlines and the rumours that were being circulated, so I decided to get in contact with Waitrose via Twitter to understand precisely what the position was, exactly. Full marks to a massive company like Waitrose employing savvy Tweeters that do their job well, answering tweets efficiently and politely. A big thank you from us to those Tweeters for making things clear for us, so that we could really understand the situation.

The truth of the matter is this: 

1/ If you wish to sit in a Waitrose Cafe, with a free coffee, you can, as long as you have purchased something else to go with it. 

That seems fair for Waitrose, the customer and for the coffee market, including nearby independent coffee shops.

2/ If you wish to have a free takeaway coffee from one of these cafes, you can, just take it out and it's still completely free.

3/ If you are in a shop that has a self-service machine, then you can still help yourself to a free coffee as normal, I have seen tweets saying that the cups are now 'hidden' and that you have to show your card to get one, so they've put a few more controls up but your free coffee is there for the taking.

4/ If you go to a shop where there is no self-service machine, then you can order a takeaway coffee at the counter and it is still FREE.

This is FANTASTIC news for people that love their free Waitrose coffee, you can still get it, don't worry, unfortunately, it does effect our ability to be able to grow our business.

Luckily for us though, most of our customers choose us because they care about the taste of what they are drinking, they care about the ethics, sustainability, the Fairtrade and organic certification, they care about the personality, the banter and the atmosphere of our little community coffee shop, they come to us because they love our attitude and our damn fine coffee, rather than because we are giving our product out for free!

Our customers vote with the pound in their pocket and they have voted consistently for us over the past 6 years since we opened in February, 2009! Thankfully our customers are a united bunch of people who think carefully about how they spend their money, the bigger repercussions of how much is fed back into the local economy and what they are really buying from us and what they are really buying is a positive change in mood. Our customers come in early in the morning, on their way to work, they want a smiling face, some care and a fantastic coffee, to enjoy on the train! They can feel good that they have chosen to support a local, independent coffee shop and making people feel good, is what we are best at!

All in all, I'm not so sure if Waitrose's free coffee offer is a threat to our business, perhaps it is actually a bigger threat to the viability of their own business. Once they realise the impact on their own success, they will withdraw all free coffees, where there is no minimum spend from the customer. 

PS. If you want to save some pennies at My Coffee Stop in Enfield, please bring in your own mug, for a 50p discount off any hot drink! Or you could even bring in a reused cup from another shop. Putting it bluntly, go to Waitrose, get your cup, with or without the free drink, reuse it in our shop and claim your 50p discount from us!

Original Post from November 2014, starts here....

Ok, ok, I am a coffee shop owner and have a vested intrest in seeing Waitrose stop giving out free coffee. Putting that to one side, I am very interested in fairness, ethics and sustainability when we shop, Waitrose was one supermarket that I actually felt good shopping in. I felt they had strong views about corporate responsibility and sustainability.

I haven't stepped foot in a Waitrose for about 1 year now. Why? I do not like lies or misleading information. Waitrose have claimed in the media, that they give coffee out to grocery shoppers to thank them for shopping at their store. Actually, they don't, they give free coffee with no purchase necessary, as stated in the terms and conditions on their website.

Free hot drink
1. Offer available to all myWaitrose members on presentation of a myWaitrose card in store.
2. One per myWaitrose member per day.
3. Only Americano, Cappuccino, Latte, Tea, Mocha and Espresso (Decaffeinated versions, Mocha and Espresso available in selected stores only) qualify as a free hot drink.
4. Selected stores only, excludes Costa Concessions, online, petrol filling stations, Shell and Welcome Break.
5. Subject to availability.
6. No purchase necessary.
7. Cannot be used in conjunction with other Café or hot drink offers.
8. At any till the myWaitrose card must be scanned to activate the offer. Quickpay customers must scan their myWaitrose card at any point during their shop.

There is also no time limit given for the promotion and no promotion of how good the coffee tastes, or how sustainable and fair that the product is. I wonder where those beans are sourced from. I am sure if it was Fairtrade coffee, they would tell us, as part of their corporate responsibility branding.

Is it fair that a large organisation that claims to be ethical, responsible and sustainable is able to continue to hand out these free drinks and directly threaten or challenge, little independent coffee shops near by and directly effect the local economy, negatively? Well, of course not and yet people are very possessive over that free coffee and if I make whinging, whining negative comments about the lack of ethics, or sustainability behind the scheme, they whinge and whine back at me. Nothing must stand between them and that much needed freebie, that they feel they deserve, especially as the green roots of economic recovery are looking rather brown and withered. Getting something, for absolutely nothing is a novelty these days and who minds taking it from a large corporation? If it is truly for nothing, is another story, seeing as you are inadvertently taking part in market research, each time you receive a coffee, by getting your card scanned and details read and your information and your routine logged.

The dynamics of the Waitrose free drink offering are very interesting indeed, for instance, I have heard several reports and jokes about how awful some people find it tastes. But why would they keep going back to get another one and another one? How long do you have to spend waiting in a queue, diverting away from your usual stroll and taking up your time to walk into Waitrose? How many times have you gone in for the free coffee and come out with other things that you realised suddenly that you 'needed'. How convenient did that feel and you had a free coffee too. Of course you know how it works, the cost of the coffee is a promotional tool, that is paid for from the shopping that you do in there. It's almost like a slight of hand magic trick.

The free hot drink promotion by Waitrose is not doing anyone any good, least of all their own business, which has issued a profit warning. If I were a member of Waitrose staff, I'd feel upset that I had joined a company that calls itself ethical and they had spent my potential share dividends on giving non-customers a reward, where no purchase is necessary. Basic business sense, ethics and a regard for sustainability suggests that a minimum spend would have to be a qualifying factor, for a free hot drink promotion, over such a long period of time.

I am amazed that Waitrose have recently won an award for sustainability, when this promotional activity is unsustainable.

The way I see it is simple, Waitrose are destroying my business's chance of growing, therefore, I cannot support their business practices by shopping there. They have lost hundreds of pounds from me, as I have lost faith in the way they do business and of course their free coffee is an unfair challenge to my business, the free coffee is also damaging their business, not just the cost of giving out the free drinks but the cost of customers boycotting Waitrose because of this economic unfairness. I'd love to know if Waitrose staff had the chance to vote for or against this unprofitable scheme.

7 November 2014

I'd rather have the shop empty!

There is a definite problem with some landlords, in Shepton Mallet keeping rents artificially high. I am lucky enough to have a landlord who understands the difficult economic times and who has been flexible enough to negotiate the rent with us. They told me that they would rather have someone in the shop than having it empty.

Today, I took the liberty of phoning a different local landlord, who was not being at all flexible on price, to have a discussion about this problem, that is not helping to regenerate the High Street whatsoever!

The landlord said, 'I would rather the property stayed empty, than rent it out for less than I want to'!

I replied that surely it would be better to let a business be in there for nothing, or at least a reduced rent, with a signed agreement stating they would get out as soon as someone was available to rent the unit at the required price. The landlord said that there was no way that they would entertain that idea.

Although the person I was talking to seemed to me to be on the defensive at first, I think they understood that I was looking for common ground. We had an interesting conversation where we agreed that the public, the shopkeepers and they, as landlords, would all want to see the regeneration of the High Street, however, whereas shopkeepers like to blame the lack of business sustainability on the landlord for charging too high a rent, this particular landlord likes to point a finger at the public and blame them for choosing not to shop at the local shops and choosing not to support them. The landlord said that the public need to support the shops and use them, if they want them. Then the public have made noises about Shepton Mallet High Street saying that the shopping choice isn't strong enough, that there needs to be a Marks and Spencers, or Waitrose, to draw people in to the centre. The shrinking Friday Market is another issue that needs addressing. Some people have said that the market is held at the wrong time of day, on the wrong day of the week, saying that if you work, you can't use it. Others have complained that the quality of the fruit and veg is hit and miss. Some people say that the market needs to start at the top of town, so that it can be seen from Tesco and draw people into town and some say it needs to go back around the market cross, off the road and that the road should be kept open, instead of being closed on market day.

Would we be worrying about these things if the economy was strong? I don't think so, things would just be ticking along nicely.

Perhaps the reason that it's so difficult to run any business at the moment is because the economy is so poor and generally, people do not have the money to spend, so the landlord waiting for the public to support the local shops with the limited amounts of money they have is futile, they are looking to the people who are struggling the most, the people whose wages have decreased, or stayed the same despite inflation and VAT increases, to spend at the same level they always did but they cannot, they are expecting people who have been made redundant, or had their hours at work cut, to maintain the same level of spending as they did in more affluent times. In asking the public to support their customers, do the landlords of the buildings in the High Street actually come into the high street and support the high street, do their shopping there, do business meetings there, do they think about where they shop and where they spend their money? Hang on a minute, this is ringing a familiar bell in my head, once again an image is conjured up in my mind of someone at the top getting people to spend money with them and then those people deciding not to spend their money in the local community and it all gets drained away to goodness knows where, just like a messed up water cycle, where if it's not sustainable, it will dry up and there is nothing left for anyone.

I don't know what the answer is but I do know that shopkeepers, landlords and shoppers are all stakeholders in the High Street and we all have to work together, not to keep things the same but to move into the future, to embrace change.

If we all point the finger of blame at each other, we will get nothing done, we have to innovate and create a new way and we have to learn how to understand what motivates a landlord. Maybe they are correct not to budge on the price, or is there a way of calculating a shop's worth with a formula, could it be that a fair rent for the unit could be, affluence grading of the area (where the higher the disposable income, the higher the grading, from 1 being an economically challenged area to 10 being an area with a large disposable income) x shop size (where the biggest is 10 on a scale and the smallest is 1) x average footfall per day, as measured over 1 year = ?  Then divided by 3 = your monthly rent in pounds.

It tickled me when in The Journal rents in Glastonbury, with much higher footfall and more disposable income and in Wells where again, there's more cash and feet about, were compared to the rents for similar properties in Shepton Mallet and judged to be in line but unfortunately, the footfall and affluence of the area wasn't taken into consideration.

The properties in Shepton are in general, priced too highly for the footfall and the area. A campaign, not against the landlords but to work with the landlords to consider what could motivate them to make changes, would be an amazing step forward, I believe.

Maybe the law needs changing, maybe there could be a law saying that no unit can be empty for more than two months and in that time, the local council have responsibility for using the shop front as a way to advertise other local shops, businesses and services, like a big colourful billboard.

I'd love to hear your ideas about this.

What can be done to regenerate our high street, to move forward with the times?

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