By accident, I’ve had three cafés in Churches and feel very lucky to have been in each of them.
After doing a history degree at Trinity College Cambridge I decided that I wanted to open my own restaurant. I then spent a couple of years cooking and another few learning to be an accountant.
Whilst training in the City I’d spotted that this was one of the few locations where normal restaurant hours didn’t apply. Restaurants and cafes in the Square Mile seemed to be able to pay their way whilst opening only for lunch Monday to Friday. This seemed like a good thing for a would-be café owner.
So I started to look around for possible sites with all the optimism of the novice. Having failed by good fortune to acquire a couple of potentially disastrous sites I happened to visit the Crypt of St Mary-le-Bow church in London’s Cheapside. I thought it was a wonderful space which appeared to be only lightly used.
The next morning, in great excitement, I rang the Rector’s doorbell and nervously asked Victor Stock, the newly-arrived incumbent, whether he would consider having a restaurant in his crypt.
Victor, who was keen for St Mary-le-Bow to develop more links with those who worked in its parish (the only resident was said to be the Governor of the Bank of England) said that he thought it might be possible.
18 months later, after a consistory court hearing and much discussion and with huge support from the congregation, The Place Below, my restaurant, opened. For nearly 20 years it’s been a busy place. We serve simple home-made food to about 200 people a day.
In 1990, about 3 years after I opened The Place Below, a friend of Victor’s Rev Andrew Mottram, approached me and asked if I’d like to come and have a look at the church he had recently moved to in Hereford, to see if there was a possibility of putting a café in the Nave.
I visited All Saints and heard about his absurdly ambitious project. I was to get a long lesson in how slowly really excellent church projects progress. The Café @ All Saints finally opened in July 1997.
Like The Place Below, Café @ All Saints has won all sorts of awards and had plenty of rave reviews in the national press.
Our next venture, the Michaelhouse Café in Cambridge, opened in October 2008. The church of St Michael’s, just a few yards away from Trinity College and Kings College Chapel, underwent a refurbishment project back in the late 1990’s (which incidentally I consulted on) and a modern café with mezzanine and art gallery was inserted into their nave.
At the time I felt unable to take on the running of the café, but a few years down the line the opportunity arose to return to Michaelhouse, and this time take charge of the kitchen. As I’m a former Trinity boy returning to Cambridge, it seems that the story of the Cafés has come full circle.
In 2009 The Place Below became Café Below and in 2012 I finally let go of my baby and I sold Café Below to Anthony and Rachel Middleton. I’m hoping this will give me the space and energy in my life to create something new – so watch this space! And in Hereford and Cambridge the businesses continue to go from strength to strength with delicious food and happy punters.