The Harland Cafe has been fuelling the people of Sheffield with delightful homemade cakes, coffee and food for a wonderful five years this September. This notable occasion obviously gave us a great excuse to go and shelter from the summer rain and have a good old chit chat and cuppa with the husband and wife team who started it all, Sara and Steve.
Hi Sara and Steve, first off, can you tell us a little about the Harland Cafe and how it all started five years ago?
We had often talked about running our own business and an opportunity had arisen which made it a good time to take the plunge. Steve has been working in hospitality for years, so he set about looking for businesses for sale, and visited Cafe Euro (as it was then) and decided it was a great space with lots of potential for us to work with. I left my job at Sheffield Students’ Union after twenty years, and the Harland Cafe was born. A lot of the family is involved, our sister-in-law does lots of the baking and our daughter works for us between studying at University, so it’s a real family concern.
So this September Harland Cafe is celebrating its fifth birthday, are you putting anything on to mark the special occasion?
We already have lots of parties and events booked in during the month so no plans for a big party of our own, but there could well be champagne and there will (of course) be cake. We also plan to offer prizes via our social media, so keep your eyes peeled!
What do you think has made the cafe such a running success over the past five years?
Our aim was to create somewhere that was welcoming and comfortable, something a bit different that would appeal to everyone. We went to visit lots of places that were new, and they were all kitted out with the same pastel walls and china cups, and we thought we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to offer something simple and at reasonable prices, I like to think that we’ve achieved that. A recent Trip Advisor review called it “unassuming fabulousness”, and that’s exactly what we had hoped to achieve.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an independent cafe?
Starting out was the steepest learning curve ever, we worked very long days and weeks! In the first few months we had very few staff, and had plenty of days where someone would ring in sick and the two of us would have to do it all on our own. We’ve had to learn (mainly via Google) about so many things as well as running the Cafe – employment law, pensions, food allergens, running a website – and I always say that a degree in Psychology would have been very handy to work people out!
The past two years have definitely been the toughest ones. We’ve been in dispute with our landlord due to a problem with our lease which meant we had a big rent increase imposed on us. We nearly lost our business because of the costs and back rent we had to pay. We then ended up having to go into battle with the firm of solicitors who hadn’t given us the right advice at the start. Our families have been amazing with their generosity of time and money which enabled us to carry on and keep building our business until we could get it all sorted out.
I know that you host a plethora of musicians for lunchtime busking and supper clubs, are there any in particular, past, present or future which have blown you away the most?
I can’t possibly pick one! But the Friday busking club started as a bit of an experiment which just worked incredibly well. We have met up with so many great musicians and singers, often people who have just turned up to see the others, joined in for a floor spot, and it’s gone from there. We get lots of emails from singers and bands wanting to play here – we’ve even had messages from America when people are hoping to fit us in to their European tour, which is amazing, so we’ve got lots to look forward to on that score.
Looking to the future, is there anything that you’re super excited about for the cafe?
Although we’d love to stay here, we know that’s not going to happen due to disputes over the lease. However, we hope that we can continue the success of the Harland Cafe somewhere else and that’s a very exciting thought. We’d like to continue with the music and also grow our cake and outside catering business. We also love hosting weddings for couples who want a really personal special day. So we’ve got lots of plans!
Interview by Charlotte Howson
Images 1 & 3: Charlotte Howson