Building a resilient business means being able to dance

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

Alan Wilson Watts

Its been 9 years since I started up Seaton Eats Boutique. We’ve had 33 events, including Christmas markets. Thats pretty darn good given that there were forces who tried to kybosh it from the get go. It is however time this caravan of traders moved on. Seaton Eats has become financially unviable and we’re off to continue our adventures in other towns along the Jurassic coast. 

I recently announced also that Sidmouth Eats had reached an end too, though for different reasons. Coming to such decisions isn’t easy at all – it will feel like I’m abandoning the community by withdrawing these events. So I want to reframe the sense of loss into something thats positive, and cause for celebration. 

 

Endings are simply transitions from one thing to another. 

 

When we started Seaton Eats there were not so many places to eat great food in Seaton. Since then we’ve seen some fantastic new restaurants open up, an Asian supermarket appear on our high street and themed supper nights in lots of venues. We’ve gathered in spaces that were under used and overlooked, and seen our coastline from a different perspective. These incredible community assets are Seaton’s gems and deserve to be used for more community occasions. Hopefully you’ve tried cuisine that you might have felt shy about trying in another setting, and more hopefully, you’ve fallen in love with it. We’ve shown the power of the collective voice by rising together to make these events a success and overcome obstacles. We’ve felt the value of the community dining experience. And you’ve helped me to create 2 businesses- Eats Boutique and The Salty Arms, for which I won an award. Most significantly I have met some absolutely brilliant people through Seaton Eats – I hope you have too. The sense of community ownership that you all have for this event is astonishing. There is so so much to be grateful for. 

This is the end of something wonderful in my home community, but its not the end of my work in Seaton. As many of you know I’m on of the directors of Seaton Chamber CIC, which formed as a direct result of a regeneration strategy project group. There’s a lot of invisible work going on right now but I promise you that this is a movement that is happening. Everyone – businesses and individuals are invited to join us. 

I like the quote by philosopher Alan Wilson Watts because it reminds me that nothing is permanent, and that by trying to hold on to something for ever after makes us stressed, fearful, rigid. When you dance you move your body in a different way. I’ve been dancing a lot this year (literally) and it feeeeels good! I’m sticking with that. I’m embracing change, I’m stepping into something different and I’m hitting that dancefloor.

This is the end of Seaton Eats but its not the end of Eats Boutique. I would love for you to stay in touch and visit us in our other locations – Lyme Regis on the 3rd Friday of the month and Axminster on the 4th Friday (in a new venue – ooer). On the 1st Friday of the month we’ll be popping up in a new community, so keep your eyes peeled for lots of juicy news in the weeks to come. 

So farewell Seaton Eats Boutique, and thank you. Its been an absolute pleasure to serve you. 

Sidmouth Eats Boutique comes to an end after 6 years

Endings

Sidmouth Eats Boutique comes to an end after 6 years

Saying goodbye, coming to an end. We seem to encounter the ends of things regularly –  the end of a book, the end of the day, the end of a holiday. Small endings that often have a little regret or sorrow attached to them. 

Recently we had a holiday visiting my mother’s country, Australia. It was a long awaited trip, a joyous reconnection with old friends and ageing family, and a long held desire to travel this land in a camper van. Our 6 weeks was full to the brim and it was brilliant. It was inevitable that it would come to an end, and we were all ready for that. I’ve not often felt ready for a holiday to end – we’re all plagued by the nostalgia of a more dreamy time, that escape from reality and I think I’ve found the golden nugget that 6 weeks is just about the right time for the dreamy holiday reverie to last. Week 7 would have seen bickering turn to arguments, budget turn to poverty, the compact wardrobe turn to rags and all that family become more than annoying. The end of our holiday was sweet and we came home with beautiful memories and relationships intact, ready to face the bracing slap in the face of a British January.

Thats my lesson on endings. All endings are a choice, they are the wrapping paper around an experience. I’ve made the decision to end Sidmouth Eats Boutique pop up street food market and its a really positive move for my business. 

We started out in Sidmouth in 2018, on the Ham on a blue sky day in June. I remember there was a big night going on at a local pub too so lots pf people came to see us before their night out at the pub. It was a big change from our Seaton operation – a much bigger space, more traders and expectations to pay on card. Yes, mobile card payments was still very new technology! The seagulls stayed high in that blue sky. They could smell food but couldn’t quite work out what was going on. The next event, in July, and the event after that in August had to be cancelled due to torrential rain storms. I couldn’t believe our bad luck! Up till now there are the only 2 we’ve ever had to cancel because of inclement weather. We returned to the Ham in 2019 with better luck and a shiny new card machine. Then of course there was the year that never was. In 2021 Kennaway House became our new venue, smaller and more affordable for the scale of our operation. Three summers of street food markets, an appearance on Radio Devon, joining the calendar of the Taste Eats Devon Festival, yet another cancelled event the day after Queen Elizabeth passed, and then our first Sidmouth Christmas event at the lights switch on. To cap it all we celebrated our 50th Eats Boutique event in Sidmouth, a milestone of which I’m immensely proud. 

The pandemic was an enormous boost to street food trading. Suddenly the world understood the value of eating outside. Some traders gave up the business but many more started up, seeing the benefits of flexibility in being mobile, and the fun we have serving up great food and drink direct to our customers. Community events recognised that selling a few food and beverage pitches could contribute income to the overall project. Consumers love any chance to grab something tasty to eat or drink. The hospitality industry has bloomed in the last 20 years and although it still faces enormous challenges, as a society we have become accustomed to regularly dining out and finding a coffee wherever we go. Our intimate Friday night events during the summer have enabled new street food traders to find their feet in the business. Many have moved on, shut up shop or expanded their micro empires and very many have stayed with us, becoming firm favourites of yours and friends of mine. 

Street food is one strand of the hospitality industry, and in our rural communities it meets a need. We are able to explore global cuisine with international flavours brought to our table. We can take a culinary journey around the world without having to leave our communities.

So why end it? Well, a pop up by its nature is a temporary thing. It pops up and fills a gap. It never meant to be a permanent fixture. Pop ups are transitory, filling a need that isn’t met by the current offer. Pop ups celebrate entrepreneurship and micro endeavours, they’re on a human scale. A pop up event activates spaces that can often be overlooked or ignored. They activate imagination both in the creators and in the customers, showing potential and hidden beauty. Created on a shoestring, fuelled by the passion and character of those who host them, a pop up is the antithesis of big business, as is a local market. It’s all of these ingredients that give our events their edginess and vibrancy.

Endings aren’t failures. If the community becomes saturated with the same offer it is success. When a degree of complacency sets in it no longer has the passion that drives the vibe. Its a from of gentrification – rents increase and other businesses seize on bigger opportunities. The initial need has been met, imaginations fuelled and its time for the pop up to move on and let others move in. In Sidmouth there are brilliant events in the diary, some longstanding and some new. Street food is in demand both as a revenue stream to keep community events alive, and as a known dining choice. When I first started street food markets I needed to explain to people what street food was – now everyone gets it and you know what you love, and why you love it.

Endings are transitions. My little business started up as an experiment in street food events and has grown to an extent I could never have imagined 10 years ago. I’m excited for new opportunities on the horizon, that I can mould to fit with my life in this very beautiful corner of the world. We’re never standing still, always moving forward (although it may not feel like that much of the time). A wise friend said to me that its important to make time to say goodbye and make the ending well. Doing so is a vital part of moving on to the next chapter. 

If you’re sad to see Eats Boutique leave Sidmouth, then some conforming news! We’ll still be running our community dining pop up events in other towns and gorgeous locations so not all is ended. Do stay in touch, do join us on a Friday evening during the summer to eat fantastic food and savour the community spirit of our Eats Boutique pop up street food markets. We’ll let you know when and where right here. 

Sayonara Sidmouth, adios, adieu, au revoir and farewell. 

Devon Women in Business award Winner Eleanor Carr Sole Trader / Freelancer of the Year 2023

Awards – is it vanity to nominate yourself for an award?

You are putting your self forward for recognition, highlighting successes and celebrating your achievements. You create an application that consolidates your work and lays out a plan going forward. 

Heck – that’s not vanity. That’s what the employed might call an annual appraisal. And winning that award might just be your annual bonus. 

Last autumn I was delighted to be shortlisted for the Devon Women in Business Sole Trader of the Year Award, and bowled over to receive Winner at the awards ceremony in November. It was a little prompt to friends, colleagues and customers for an outpouring of commendation that has been truly humbling. And with the start of 2024 I have revisited my DWIB application to remind myself what goals I laid out for this year – a useful little nudge. 

When you’re self employed there’s no boss to give you the pat on the back for a job well done. You don’t get the annual appraisal to discuss what went well in your performance and reflect on professional development. Instead perhaps that one hiccup that happened takes centre stage. Like many people that pesky thing called Imposter Syndrome has a habit of creeping up to tap you on the shoulder at 3am. According to a wise friend of mine our brains are hard wired to focus on problem solving – a form of survival, so its common behaviour to default to the fault. To behave then against this wiring and to instead turn our attention to the stories of success can feel like a guilty pleasure. 

Nope. I’m not falling into that trap anymore. Just like a delicious chocolate or a drink during dry January, I’m going fully enjoy the glow of achievement, relish the experience of writing the award application and use that document as a promise to myself and a road map for the next steps in my business. Is that vanity? Not in my book. 

Hitting the submit button is a little daunting I will confess, but once its done you’ve put out into the world an affirmation that what you do day to day has value. Folks will only understand the full extent of your value if there’s someone to tell the whole story. And the person best placed to tell that story is the one who’s right in the middle of it. 

Louise Jenner The Dream Coach present the award
copyright Poppy Jakes Photography
Winner logo 2023
Fellow winners at the Devon Women in Business awards 2023
Fellow winners photo credit Ed Hunt
sunny autumn

The rhythm of running a seasonal business

sunny autumn

Running an outdoor events business has a rhythm defined not by quarters or tax years, but by nature’s seasons. The summer is my peak trading time and I’m a busy bee producing events, seeing the fruits of my time spent at my desk. When Autumn comes around its time for me to retreat indoors. Many of our Eats Boutique street food traders carry on right up until Christmas, battling wind and rain and the cold to cook up their delicious menus. Gawd, I have so much sympathy for those who continue with outside events in the recent weather we’ve been experiencing.

Over the years we have tried iterations of Christmas and Festive Eats Boutiques but find its altogether a different beast. While successful ones have been beautiful with twinkly lights and warming mulled cider they have also been rare, and rely almost entirely on luck. And we all know that Lady Luck likes to share her good will around. It doesn’t pay to push her for more. 

So then people start to ask me, well what do you do when you’re not running markets? Here’s the answer: everything else. 

I catch up with my house jobs, I invest time in volunteering, I spend time with my family, I re-discover my social life, I sleep. I clean, I organise, I file, I plan. Running a business as a sole trader means there isn’t a stop, there’s just a change. I’m gravel that the pace can slow down but there’s still plenty to do. 

Right now I’m looking at my systems – I’m beyond excited to be meeting with a book keeper next week to help me untangle what for me is a tricky job. I’m considering event templates for new ventures. I’m really hoping to create a proper home office to replace my corner in a family room. That’s going to involve moving a lot of furniture around, getting rid of a broken sofa and re-wiring the telly. My computer needs attention. I’ve got new tech to learn to make things run more professionally next year and some new working partnerships  to explore.

The 2024 Eats Boutique street food markets start now. Planning is an essential part of putting on events and the event itself is the culmination of months of work. In order for the events to start in May my work begins now. I’m thinking about the contracts I’ll make with my cohort of 2024 street food traders. I’m building relationships and contracts with the landowners of our venues. Deadlines for print marketing come around quickly after the new year so disseminating information for glossy magazines and tourist guides is a priority winter job. Its important that these press releases and adverts contain the right information, so all that needs to be confirmed.

mobile bar hire flexible bespoke packages for indoor and outdoor use
Bonny Anne can sail into private events

A new area of business I’m exploring is getting The Salty Arms out there as a bespoke mobile bar for hire. Are you having a party? Do you need a mobile bar? I can do it staffed or unstaffed – we can work out a package that suits you. We can generally get anywhere because The Salty Arms doesn’t require power (though its nice) and we can carry every single bit of kit into the corner you want because we’re not set up in a vehicle. There’s my sales pitch – contact me to talk more about your party and how I can help take the load of hosting off your shoulders so you can go out there and enjoy your event.

In the OFF season its time to re-imagine, re-use, re-purpose and re-pair our bar set up. I’m re-designing some of the pop up pub’s menu boards and Bonny Anne (The Salty Arms’ mermaid figurehead) needs a lick of paint to tidy her up. A mobile bar take some battering during the ON season and I’ve made a list of screws that need replacing, wood that needs repairing, coats of paint that need applying, kit I can create from re-purposing, and kit thats just beyond repair.

Running a business on your own is a tough game. Wearing lots of hats requires agility. You have to be able to zoom in focus with one skill set, then switch to a whole other thought process and skill set. From accounting to marketing, contracts to content to networking, goal setting to reflecting and strategising, there are  a lot fo hats. I love most of it but its easy to get overwhelmed. So this time, the autumn, the withdrawing is exceptionally valuable to me as a way to manage this overwhelm. By tidying up from the activity of the summer, and lining up the ducks for the 2024 season I’m able to stand back and reflect on my business, to get an overview of weaknesses and successes. Getting personal stuff in order too is about re-centering and re-balancing. Working intensely for 6 months of the year is draining because I don’t have the time to do the things that fill my cup. What do you do to maintain your pace?

Keeping that cup of emotional energy at a level that sustains me through intense output is really important to keep me energised. It’s the difference between walking up a hill and trying to run up a mountain. Mental wellness is something we all need to aware of, starting with our own. It’s also important to be aware of the mental health of those around us, and I’m proud to be a trustee of a charity that seeks to help organisations improve their culture around mental health provision in the workplace. Its called The Mental Health Community and you can do a short questionnaire to discover where your workplace stands here. Whether you’re a sole trader or a business leader we can all create a better, more open and more accepting culture around mental health.

Before the 2024 season of Eats Boutique pop up street food markets gets underway I’m off to replenish my cup with a 6 week family holiday to Australia. Its been 16 years since I was last there and its high time I went back, the time with my family in tow. We’ve got a packed itinerary of exciting outdoorsy things to do and some of my favourite people to catch up with. The Aussies really Do Food so I’m excited to get inspired on our travels. Our Eats Boutique events were prompted by a trip to France – read that story here. Who knows what I might come back with this time. See you all in 2024.

the Seaton Chamber logo shows the white chalk cliffs, red sandstone and blue Iias rock that make up the Jurassic coast. Only in Seaton can all 3 rock types be seen together. The logo exemplifies hit s in its colours, and represents Seaton Devon's independent businesses and community.

Breaking news: the Seaton Chamber has re-formed

Having accidentally started up a business in my local town, its opened my eyes to the economic tensions that exists in our seaside and rural communities. And its time to do something about it.

the Seaton Chamber logo shows the white chalk cliffs, red sandstone and blue Iias rock that make up the Jurassic coast. Only in Seaton can all 3 rock types be seen together. The logo exemplifies hit s in its colours, and represents Seaton Devon's independent businesses and community.
the Seaton Chamber logo shows the white chalk cliffs, red sandstone and blue Iias rock that make up the Jurassic coast. Only in Seaton can all 3 rock types be seen together. The logo exemplifies the unity of this town and unique identity on the UNESCO World Heritage site Jurassic coast.

Seaton gets forgotten about because its on the edge – of a constituency, of the county, of the district, and of the land itself. We like that very much about Seaton (so did Jack Rattenbury our notorious local pirate) but there’s being left alone, and there’s being ignored.

Decline in small towns and rural communities is happening across the land thanks to the last 20 years of national and global political currents. Without balance the life blood slows and our communities stagnate. Seaton has suffered as times change. A way of life expired and the town’s potential got buried. Absolutely everything has a part to play in creating thriving towns and its time to uncover it. So a small group of forward thinking business owners, including yours truly, got together to resurrect the Seaton Chamber of Commerce. to make Seaton shine again, in a way thats fits 21st century expectations.

Seaton Chamber reformed because: 

  • there are people who are motivated to make Seaton realise its potential
  • things happen when people work together
  • councils are cash strapped
  • We’ve decided that we want to shape our town to be the place we want to live
  • No one else is going to do it.

So far we have:

  • set up a new organisation with an exec committee of 15, an updated constitution, registered our CIC legal status, designed a new logo and set up a social media presence.
  • supported local business by voicing concern to Aldi, to school bus companies, safeguarding Seaton Eats 2023 and organising a workshop to upskill business owners.
  • supported community by opening the Community Fridge in the library, creating a plan to enhance the Grizzly weekend, and driving forward plans for a cycle route to Axmsinter.
  • thought about the future by surveying visitors and shop owners, preparing better and more resilient communications to visitors, and launching the Shipshape Festival for April 2024.
  • and already activated big projects for everyone’s benefit – namely the asset transfer of 2 public toilet facilities in the town that have been permanently closed.

Pretty impressive list so far!

In all the communities in which we pop up with Eats Boutique there are incredible groups f people driving positive change: Vision Group for Sidmouth, Light Up Axminster, Love Lyme Regis, to name just a few, plus their Chambers of Commerce. So here’s a big shout out to all these people who give their time freely and willingly to make our communities better and stronger.

If you’d like to keep up with Seaton’s rejuvenation then follow us on social channels:

Seaton Eats, Sidmouth Eats, Axminster Eats reaches milestone of 50 events

50 events!

Seaton Eats, Sidmouth Eats, Axminster Eats reaches milestone of 50 events
Eats Boutique started in 2017 and now has 3 event series

 

Having started a business accidentally its more than surprising that we reached the milestone 50th event. Take a look at this article in south west industry leading publication Rise and Shine Hospitality that talks more about how it happened.

sunset street food markets

Hello 2023

sunset street food markets

Hey we’ve got exciting things going down here at HQ. This time of year is all about planning and I’m sitting here at my computer wrapped in layers and dreaming of summer. Its a mixed bag of looking forward to it because then I’ll be waaaaarm… but also knowing that I’ll be working my socks off to keep up with ordering stock, posting content, washing cups, keeping the trailer in order, keeping my house in some semblance of order and trying to cook dinner for feeding time at the zoo (in other words, my family).

January and February becomes the time to lay the seeds, and as every good farmer knows, good soil makes better crops. Like the soil I need a rest, so its time to catch up with friends and family and films and books and fitness. I also start to negotiate contracts with landowners and pitches with traders. I think about the menu at the pop up pub The Salty Arms, I think about what kind of support and staffing I’ll need. I think about what tech we’re gong to need, and I think about how I’m going to advertise the events.

So although its resting time its thinking time too. What I’m saying is that even as a small business that has only summer events, I am in fact working all year round. Right now I’m negotiating and setting dates, trying to get an overview the year ahead.

Seaton Food festival

Sum up 2022

We found our mojo

Seaton Food festival
Chrissie, like us, found their mojo at our 2022 events

The sun beat down on us as we set up.
And the people came.

Our street food markets were brilliant, and thats all thanks to YOU.

The Slow Season, the winter, affords me the opportunity to see how far Eats Boutique has travelled since we started in 2015. Come with me and take a moment to recognise our achievements…. and that collaboration has been the name of the game for 2022.

So lets have a look …..

Jubilee Friday feee cocktail
Dubbonet and gin - an aperitif with royal connections

We celebrated the Queen’s platinum Jubilee at Seaton Eats in June with a free cocktail! All those lovely folks on my email list received a voucher and we gave away more than 20 of her favourite cocktail – Gin and Dubonnet. Everyone of course was able to share in this interesting aperitif because they were for sale too. Did you know, an aperitif is a pre dinner drink intended to stimulate your appetite. Well, it certainly stimulated a few things on that June evening because we were super busy and the weekend of celebrations started with us.

In July we launched our our pop up pub The Salty Arms. I needed to revamp our resident mobile bar and to get there I found Chris from the Beer Mens’ Shed. These chaps designed a fascia board to an exacting brief – it had to be light, easy to load into the trailer and easy to put together, but sturdy so that it wasn’t going t be a health and safety risk. They did a brilliant job. With the structure in place it was up to me to paint the name and create mermaid figure head to steer our ship.

The Beer Mens Shed fascia project
The Beers Mens' shed made the fascia board structure
our competition winner collects his Mermaid gin
This chap entered our competition to name our mermaid, and came away with a whole bottle of Mermaid gin for doing so. Well done Alex!

Check out this video of how I made a mermaid- again it had to be lightweight, rain proof and sturdy enough to withstand the bashing about a mobile bar takes in its life. Then we had to find a name for her and more collaboration followed with our friends over at the Isle of Wight Distillery. They donated a bottle of Mermaid gin as a prize to our competition, and Bonny Anne was born (and Alex was tickled with his gin – “I never win anything” he said). We set sail in style at our July event, with a visit from the Lyme Bay Moonrakers shanty choir.

pop up food fair Axminster
Axminster Eats Boutique 2022

At the end of July we launched another project: Axminster Eats Boutique. We were delighted to make new friends (thanks for the coffees Leigh) and with the turnout. I’m pleased to say that our collaboration with Axminster Guildhall will continue into 2023 with 4 dates for Axminster Eats Boutique, taking place on the last Friday of the month.

We had a powerful moment in Axminster – click on the pic for the video. We pledge to continue our efforts to reduce our environmental impact. This year the Salty Arms stocked more locally produced drinks, and where possible we replaced bottles with cans – less weight to transport and more easily recyclable. We continue to work to improve our bins to maximise recycling.

One minute silence for Climate Emergency Day
There is no planet B. Protecting our environment is one of our priorities.

Sidmouth is lucky to have some visionary people who lead on sustainability, such as the Vision Group for Sidmouth. Another little feather in my hat for 2022 was to be asked by VGS to be a judge for their 2023 Sustainability Awards. I’ll definitely be talking more about this in 2023.

Darts Farm: the venue for the launch party
Eats Boutique for Taste East Devon festival
Vicky and Eleanor, the team at Eats Boutique attuned the launch of Taste East Devon Festival

During September Taste East Devon took place. This 2 week festival is a collection of events across the region, doing exactly what its says on the tin. It’s a chance to get to know the flavours of our region, and Sidmouth Eats Boutique was delighted to be part of the festival by honing in on the many links our events have to East Devon producers.

However with the passing of Queen Elizabeth we felt – traders, Kennaway House and me, that it was right to pause, while the nation gathered its thoughts about how best to mark this moment.

Instead we held our event in November, our first Festive Sidmouth Eats, and our 50th Eats Boutique. As a way to mark this milestone we wanted to give away more booze! This time it was Pick the Golden Paddle to win your round at the pub. This was so much fun I reckon we might run this one again…

Eats Boutique - our 50th event held at Kennaway House on 19 November.

You know, when I look back on this, phew, what a lot happened!

We got back into the swing of things after a complete stop in 2020 and tentative steps in 2021.

We celebrated Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne shortly followed by the end of her reign.

We were inspired by the sea and launched our pop up pub, The Salty Arms.

We made new friends by collaborating with organisations creating their own social impact, and producers who make amazing food and drink from the land around us.

We took our amazing event series to a new community

and

we celebrated a grand total of 50 Eats Boutique events.

Not too shabby.