The Obstacle Is The Way


noun. A thing that blocks one's way or prevents or hinders progress.

It has been said that many of us wouldn't take on big challenges, such as starting our own business, if we know all of the obstacles we would face along the way.  Perhaps it's better not to know sometimes... just leap and be prepared to keep falling off, fighting back and re-thinking the original plan.  

When Nick and I set up The Coffee Camper in 2012, we were looking for an adventure and we got one, full of all the risk and uncertainty that it brings!  There were times when we questioned our sanity but we've come to love the unexpected.  Our main challenge  in moving forwards was how to live that life by the coast and at the same time expand the business.

We started exploring ideas for living full time in St Davids, Pembrokeshire after the 2016 event season.  Keen to work with Pembrokeshire company TYF Adventure, we approached them with some ideas and together came up with a plan for Summer 2017.   We would build a shepherds hut offering locally sourced food and speciality coffee alongside pizza from Cardiff's Dusty Knuckle and an organic bar provided by TYF for the summer evenings. 

From hashing out an initial plan, we moved house from Bath to Pembrokeshire within six weeks and then had three months to design and build a food trailer.  By mid-January, we'd agreed on a shepherds hut design, the budget had been set and the build was underway.  In some ways we were on familiar ground, however, preparing food commercially was new to both of us.  While the structure was being built, we needed to learn about commercial kitchens and plan the internal set up.  We scrutinised pictures of street food interiors and googled things like 'how to cook bacon on a commercial griddle' and 'best oven for a street food trailer'.    

During the winter months we interviewed potential staff, met local suppliers, designed a menu and got ready to open the new business.  Despite our best efforts, the build ran over schedule and we spend nights finishing off while at the same time planning training sessions for the new team, drawing up employment contracts and testing out menu ideas!  When we finally opened it felt that we had dealt with all of the unexpected obstacles already and could breath a sigh of relief and even relax enough to celebrate a little.  

Speciality coffee in rural Wales alongside simple, wholesome food, was a welcomed by many and within a few weeks we had our 5 star food hygiene rating and lots of grateful, encouraging and satisfied customers.  

As it turned out, cooking on the griddle was pretty straight forward, however, after a few weeks, we realised that the range cooker was melting the walls!!!  There were a number of factors that caused it, including a questionable gas engineer.  Ultimately though, despite endless research and advice from chefs and retailers, we had bought a range oven that was far too powerful for the space.  We had to shut down the kitchen and review the situation.

Our initial assessment was as follows:

 - In order to keep paying our new employees, we would keep opening, serving just coffee, smoothies and cake.   

 - We would to find a new and reliable gas engineer to confirm the changes needed to the cooking set up.

 - We needed to work out how we could get the oven out, as the hut had been build around it.  

With some careful cash flow planning, serving coffee just about covered our expenses for a few weeks while we made a plan to get cooking again.  We found a reliable gas engineer and a local carpenter to advise us and, after two weeks, had agreed that the following steps were necessary:

 - We needed to empty the hut and remove the serving counter, glass and shelving.

 - Four strong men would then be able to lift the range out through the serving hatch.

 - We could then re-assemble the hut and install new, more suitable, cooking equipment.

Once we had a clear plan, all of the above was done within a few days.  As the problem became clear and so did the solution.  Having a knowledgable carpenter to oversee the dismantling of the hut avoided potentially costly mistakes.  Calm discussion with the gas engineer highlighted the changes needed, albeit at a cost that we had not foreseen.  Cash flow planning helped us to navigate the unexpected turn of events and finally, friends from neighbouring businesses helped haul the oven out of the hut, a task that we didn't know was possible until we actually managed to achieve it.

Although, at the time, all of these extra challenges seemed like a nightmare, we found some great local tradesmen that will most likely help us overcome future obstacles, we established ways to communicate clearly with staff and work together in flexing our menu to make enough money to survive during the 'no cooking' weeks.

In retrospect, the whole experience could be termed an adventure!   


noun. A bold, usually exciting undertaking with uncertain outcome.

Recommended reading:  The Daily Stoic & The Obstacle is The Way, both by Ryan Holiday

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Closed Until Further Notice

The cafe is now shut due to the coronavirus outbreak. We will let you know as soon as we are able to start trading again and look forward to seeing you soon.

Until then, stay well, look after each other and we will get through this storm and build something from it.

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