Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Corey's Downton Abbey Inspired Christmas Afternoon Tea

This week Corey Eastwood will be wheeled into an operating theatre for what we hope will be, life changing surgery. I have yet to meet this very special young man but I am hoping, that when I do, I will also be presenting him with a cheque to help his family fund this important operation. 

Corey might be a stranger to me, but his big sister, Rebecca, certainly isn’t. Rebecca is a smiling, hard working, popular member of the Catwalk Cafe team. She is well liked by both our customers and her colleagues, and is someone who will always go the extra mile to ensure our customers have a great experience during their visits to our cafe. 

The revelation that her family were working so hard to raise £25,000 by Christmas to fund an operation for 13 year old Corey stunned us all. 

Rebecca tells me that Corey is a delightful younger brother! She speaks so highly of him and with such affection...

Rebecca explained, “Corey was born with cerebral palsy and is unable to walk unaided. He gets around with the aid of a walker or, when tired, a wheelchair. A procedure called Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) could enable Corey to walk unaided for the first time in his life.This procedure is not available to him on the NHS because NICE guidelines suggested it was most effective on patients aged between three and nine years old. My family have decided to raise the £25,000 needed for the procedure themselves. Corey himself, has participated in numerous events to help raise money.” 

The hospital fees will be due by Christmas so with that in mind we have planned a spectacular Downton Abbey Christmas Afternoon Tea. £5 from every ticket will be donated to Corey’s fund along with all of the proceeds from the raffle held that afternoon.

For more details or to book your place at this very special tea party click here.

To find out more, or donate to the fund click here.


Saturday, 12 October 2013

Experience something special...
My fondest childhood memories include many trips to our local tearoom with my favourite grandmother. I can still hear the chink of the silver teaspoons stirring sugar lumps into steaming hot tea poured from silver teapots, the hushed voices punctuated by laughter as friends and families exchanged stories over sandwiches and cakes, and the beautiful music playing quietly in the background.The highlight of this very special treat was always the arrival of the cake trolley creaking with an abundance of freshly baked cakes as it was wheeled over by kindly waitresses clad in black and white uniforms.

Well these precious memories were well and truly stirred on a recent visit to Gillian Wesley and the Catwalk Cafe in Knowle. This quaint business, sited in an old Victorian haberdashery shop, marries a fashion themed cafe with an in-house design studio and boutique.
This unique cafe, complete with sweeping red catwalk carpet, is just THE place to meet for coffee, catch up over lunch, or treat someone special to a divine afternoon tea.
Unfamiliar with Knowle, I investigated the website prior to my visit and was delighted to find six free car parks all within easy walking distance of the Catwalk Cafe.
Located just off the high street this unusual business was easy to identify by its corset image painted on the side of the cottage like building.

The shop windows were captivating with corset clad mannequins sporting skirts of cascading chiffon. Vintage... with a modern twist!
I bravely pushed open the shop door as an old fashioned tearoom bell announced my arrival. My hesitation was completely swept aside by a smiling waitress dressed in a traditional black and white uniform. Once inside the full impact of this jaw dropping venue hit me. The sweeping red catwalk carpet is complemented by vintage style black and white floor tiles. Exposed brickwork and vintage furniture complete the look.The cafe stood right infront of me, with an enticing boutique to the right.
The warm welcome continued as I was guided to my table and I immediately knew that this was going to be an enjoyable experience. I sat alongside what I can only describe as a Victorian style arcade shop. Peering through the glass into what must have been the original haberdashery shop, I could see a collection of wedding dresses that looked as if they had come straight off the set of Downton Abbey!

Something else caught my eye in the reflection of the glass... the cake trolley! Loaded with home baked cakes this extravaganza was a sight to behold! My eyes couldnʼt help butfollow it as it was wheeled from table to table. I noted with interest that it was even possible to have a little slice of everything! Oh boy!
I ordered a glass of Champagne and the daily special... Seafood Linguine, and continued to digest all that I saw around me.

A business meeting between two ladies was taking place on the table behind me. An elegant afternoon tea stood proudly in the centre of the table on a three tier cake stand. Mis matched vintage china and a silver teapot completed this very charming picture of British nostalgia.

The beautifully presented staff were discreetly attentive. I asked what type of customers frequented the Catwalk Cafe. “Anyone” the waitress said, “from couples, friends, family groups, business associates to groups of girls holding baby showers or upmarket pre wedding celebrations.We even hire the venue out on Sunday afternoons for Christenings and family gatherings”.
I should point out that whilst obviously being a popular choice for ladies, the men were well catered for too. At the time of my visit, several men, having no doubt secured considerable brownie points for their choice of lunch venue with their other halves, were now relaxing over a beer and the daily newspaper, while their ladies browsed the quirky boutique and gift shop. It struck me as the ultimate in stress free Christmas shopping!

At three oʼclock the background music and the black and white movies playing on the tv screen behind the counter were switched off, and a young lady dressed in forties attire stepped up to the microphone. An hour of 1940ʻs classics followed which was met by rapturous applause by those enjoying their afternoon teas. What a very special afternoon this was proving to be!

More questioning of the staff revealed that while the French trained chef produces all of the dishes and home baked cakes, upstairs in the studio seamstresses are creating unique one off Gillian Wesley designs to sell in the boutique.
As I poured my tea from the silver teapot into the vintage china cup, my thoughts returned to my grandmother and our weekly trips to the local tearoom. It struck me that this little gem of a business is the perfect antidote for those who are weary of our copycat high streets and manufactured or mass produced goods. I cannot wait to bring my own grandchildren here. I have a feeling that in fifty years time, people will be fondly reminiscing about happy times at the Catwalk Cafe...

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Downton Abbey Inspired Afternoon Tea

Encouraged by our customers who, perhaps unsurprisingly, all seem to be fans of ITV's successful period drama by Julian Fellows, we have finally booked a date for our Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea.

Our staff, who are not unfamiliar with the etiquette, dress and service of the time, needed little persuasion to create a special afternoon tea in keeping with this elegant period.

Just like the drama itself, there have been hushed discussions going on in our kitchen, punctuated by squeals of delight, as the plans for this extravagant event have taken shape!

Of course, traditional afternoon teas are the norm here at the Catwalk Cafe, along with vintage china, silver teapots, black and white uniforms, and of course, delightful home made petit fours. 

Our Downton Abbey Inspired Afternoon Tea menu, which no doubt would have received Mrs Patmore's seal of approval, will delight fans of the series as they step back in time to experience the charm and elegance of this bygone era for themselves.

To book a table click here. 

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Prom Dress Giveaway 2014

It is official... prom dress pressure has already begun for the parents of year 11 girls! These elaborate occasions seem to get bigger and more expensive year by year.

We are well aware that this excitement is not shared by all, and can be the source of extreme anxiety for some pupils and their parents.
In previous years around prom time, here at the Catwalk Cafe, we have given away a prom dress to a deserving young lady to allow her to attend a prom when she might otherwise have been unable to do so.
This year we would like to help many girls by also collecting donated dresses and gifting them to young women whose families may be struggling financially. 
Please consider donating that evening gown or cocktail dress that you no longer wear, by bringing it into the Catwalk Cafe on your next visit. Dresses will be collected until the end of March 2014 when they will be offered to a selection of young ladies nominated by their friends or family. Any gowns not claimed by our nominees will be donated to local charities.
To nominate a deserving recipient please write to the address below, or email via the website. Naturally, all nominations will be treated with the utmost confidence. Selected nominees will be invited to attend individual appointments to select a suitable prom dress during the month of April 2014.

Gillian Wesley and the Catwalk Cafe
Kenilworth Road
West Midlands
B93 0JA

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Yummy Mummy Coffee Mornings at the Catwalk Cafe

We welcome parents and babies and have space for pushchairs, provide high chairs, a clean toybox and baby changing facilities. Our popular Yummy Mummy Coffee Mornings are held on the first Tuesday of every month between 10-12 am. Parents are treated to a complimentary cake from our trolley and can catch up with friends over a cuppa. 

On Tuesday 2nd July we are looking forward to welcoming the fabulous BB Boutique of Solihull, who will let us take a sneak preview of their beautiful organic babywear, care and gifts.

Monday, 3 June 2013

(Photograph by Avon Studios

How to look great in photographs!

"Look at my waist" shrieks the customer from our boutique changing room! My staff smile knowledgeably, for this is a frequent occurrence when a customer tries on a corset for the first time. And that is part of what makes a corset truly special... they feel fabulous to wear! After all, looking good is only half the story.

During the construction and fitting of a corset I am always dismayed when a customer shares with me her own particular body issues. And believe me, it seems that every woman has a part of her body that she would at best, like to disguise, and at worst, has plans to change! A report in the Daily Mail today confirms my experience with customers. 

"Three quarters of British women were unhappy with their shape, 71% with their weight and six out of ten said body image made them feel depressed"

We all love the moment when a customer comes to try on her corset for the final fitting and we encourage her to sashay down our catwalk carpet , often to the rapturous applause of our afternoon tea customers who enjoy the impromptu fashion show!

It was such a discussion with photographer John Cleary, which led to the scheduling of a workshop to teach women how to look good in photographs. John, through the course of his work, is highly skilled at communicating posing techniques to his clients to produce the most flattering images. His first workshop at the Catwalk Cafe was a massive success and we are delighted to announce that he will be returning on 27th June 2013 to share his secrets with our customers. 

If you hate photographs of yourself, this workshop is for you! Ideal for those attending a wedding this summer!

Book your place here.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Trip Advisor and the Truth

TripAdvisor and the Truth

"I recently visited your cafe after living in Knowle for many years, I stumbled upon it by accident. It was closed; it being a Sunday afternoon and all, so I thought I'd try it out on a Saturday. The following is my intended review for TripAdvisor if I do not hear back from anyone within 5 days"

As a small business we welcome I guess every business should. All normal rational people would want to hear from their customers when things go well, and of course when things have not been so good. It is preferable that customers raise issues with staff at the time, but in the real world some people prefer not to do that.

For this reason Trip Advisor has its place. In theory, businesses get to hear the honest views from their customers. The problem occurs when irrational people feel they have the right to bully businesses through the power of Trip Advisor. To date this proposed review has not been posted, but instead has been used as some kind of a threat against us. I regard this as a quite objectionable use of a website such as Trip Advisor.

A quick Google search brings up hotel guests using the threat of a bad review to gain discounts or upgrades. Duncan Bannatyne himself has raised issues about the validity of posts made concerning his hotel chain.

A BBC report stated that hoteliers said that younger people - aged below 40 - were too quick to post negative reviews on sites such as Trip Advisor, whilst those over 40 address the problems directly with staff.

This is my recent experience concerning a customer who claims a scone served to her in my cafe was substandard. Now, for the record, I fully accept that this lady is possibly telling the truth regarding the scone. We serve lots of freshly baked, homemade scones every day to plenty of happy customers, but I accept that one could have fallen below standard. It could happen. We would prefer it if it didn’t... but this is real life. My staff all work extremely hard to ensure that all of our customers receive quality food along with good old fashioned hospitality, and all take immense pride in their work. Had this lady chosen to raise this matter with any staff member, it would have been resolved in a quick and efficient manner, and most importantly, to the customer's satisfaction.

But this blog is not about a scone. It is about raising the issue of individuals who, for whatever reason, wish to use a website such as Trip Advisor, as a threat, rather than a means of providing a genuine, honest review. It seems that this tactic is being used up and down the country as a means of obtaining free or discounted products and services.

The threatened review was not limited to a substandard scone. The lady in question went on to attack  every other area of my business, and in doing so, sought to get a response from me within a stated time limit. Given that my staff are all friendly, approachable people, I found this method of communication simply absurd.

Is it about time that venomous attacks on genuine businesses via Trip Advisor are bought under control? On behalf of hard working businesses and their staff everywhere, I feel I must make a stand against this growing trend to damage the reputation of genuine hard working people in this country. I am so confident in what my business is trying to achieve in terms of customer experience, that I am prepared to publish this review currently held over my head as a threat.

This astonishing email opened with with the above paragraph.The email went on to attack every area of my business, including my hard working staff.

This is my open letter to the lady who sought to threaten my livelihood and those of my staff in such an appalling way...

My business in its current form, has been open for just eighteen months. In fact, I have been trading elsewhere for the past twenty two years. In line with the advice from Mary Portas, I, along with my superb team of staff, have worked unbelievably hard to create a truly unique venue, where we try to put customers at the centre of all we do.

We are all hard working, honest, decent people. I was somewhat taken aback at your need to threaten me in an effort to ensure I responded to you. Why on earth would I not respond to a customer who felt she had a justified complaint about my business? It struck me as bullying behaviour. You can rest assured that I would have responded to you without the threat, because I am running a professional business here that values its customers.

You may well be aware that the business consists of a fashion boutique, with clothes made on the premises in the studio above the shop, along with a fashion themed cafe, complete with a sweeping red catwalk carpet down the centre! We try to stock quirky items not normally found on the high street, and indeed some of our suppliers are individual British designers, working hard in their own businesses, creating products the old fashioned way. I like to support them, after all, it wasn’t that long ago since I was working away in a converted garage creating unique clothing for individual clients. As a single mother to two small children, I was determined not to live on benefits, and worked incredibly hard to keep a roof over our heads through sheer hard work and with very little in the way of support.

My life changed forever when I won a business competition, the prize being a shop rent free for a year. I learnt so much during that time, in fact, all of the ideas for my current business emerged as a result of my experiences that year. More recently I have won the local Solihull News Business Person of the Month award.

The move to Knowle has been the highlight of my business life. It is the result of twenty two years of hard work. We have worked hard to be part of the community here. We support several local charities, offer support to the local infant school, and have recently donated a dress to a local secondary school to enable a young lady,who couldn’t afford a gown, to attend the annual prom. Local people enjoy our evening events here and many families use our venue to celebrate the important occasions in their lives.

“The shop is somewhat overpriced. I've seen similar items elsewhere for less and considering the backwater location, and being relatively unheard of... you'd think that this "pet project" would have been given some more thought and prices to match.”

I mention all of the above in response to your threat to publicly label my business a “Pet Project”, which clearly it isn’t.

It is also very easy to be critical of prices when one has no responsibility to provide wages nor indeed pay the substantial costs involved with operating premises such as these. Please also see above regarding our support of British designers...who clearly are not manufacturing in far away lands. You may be interested to know that our gift prices start at just £4.

One of your many complaints concerned a scone which was not up to standard.

"Scones should be served cold and FRESH or at least slightly warm. These were clearly at least a week old, either that or the recipe is seriously lacking, think calling it a "rock cake" would be a more accurate description."

Now I AM disappointed to hear that a menu item was not up to standard. It would have been preferable if you had raised this with my staff at the time to enable them to replace this substandard item. I do, however, understand that not everyone is comfortable in doing this, so an email to me would have been appropriate and welcomed (no threat required). I am astonished at your ability to publicly state that our scones are a week old. For the record, our chef bakes fresh scones on a daily basis. I do hope that you (and your guest) enjoyed the complimentary food and drink we subsequently offered to you.

“I was surprised at the fact that while I was there, the two waitresses had their lunch at a table in the main dining area. I thought this inappropriate as there should be a staff room.”

I am legally (and morally!) obliged to allow staff proper breaks. Along with hundreds other small cafes up and down the country, the staff eat at vacant tables during quiet spells. This is not only for their comfort, but also so that they would be able to jump up and serve should the cafe suddenly become busy. Again... putting our customers first. I can only apologise of the sight of my hard working staff taking a well earned break offends you.

It is no secret that small businesses such as mine hold the key to economic growth in this country. Wherever possible my business supports other small businesses by using local tradespeople and shopping in local stores. How sad is it that in this world of self promotion, that vindictive individuals can make damaging public remarks which can impact on the growth on a business such as this? And the main reason? A scone that you feel was below standard...

“It was difficult to spot a real "find" due to being quite overcrowded”

You had many other complaints regarding the layout of the shop. Most customers have no difficulty locating a “find” and again, if the layout of the shop is not to your liking we can only apologise, but as I have pointed out, we are trying to be different.

 You made a strong complaint about the the lack of WiFi (we have plans in place to introduce this). Your comment to my staff suggesting that I wasn’t a very nice person by not providing free WiFi, was met with disbelief by all!!!

Whilst we encourage our customers to make Trip Advisor posts it amazes me that a sub standard scone (and I am taking your word as gospel here), would be the catalyst for such a posting which would have such a detrimental effect on this business and all of the people involved with it.

But what puzzles me most is your THREAT to make this public attack on my business if I failed to respond to you? Was that really necessary? Is that an appropriate use of Trip Advisor?

We shall continue to offer the very best to all of our customers. Genuine complaints will always be dealt with in a professional manner. Trip Advisor threats, along with malicious posts, will always be ignored.