By Jennifer Lynn
Ever dreamt of owning your own small business? Proprietor of The Daisy Cupcake Café and all-round Superwoman, Tamara Jess shares her words of wisdom.
“I lie awake in bed at night thinking about lettuce,” laughs Tamara Jess, the 40-year-old driving force behind Ayr’s first cupcake café. “Making sure we’ve got enough lettuce might not be on a par with curing diseases, but no one else is going to do it, no one else can be held responsible if we don’t have enough supplies, it’s down to me.” The lettuce is, of course, a metaphor for the fact that Tamara’s business is very much a one-woman show. Yes she has staff (her sister works for her on a Saturday, her dad and sons are somewhat willing volunteers during the week) but in her own words she’s “always juggling twenty things at once.”
So how did it all begin? Well, before opening the doors of The Daisy Cupcake Café last July, Tamara was studying Travel and Tourism at college, as well as working in high street clothing chain River Island. “A combination of stress and a lack of money were what drove me to start my own business,” she says. “I’m not saying that I’ve managed to alleviate either of these things, but I do have a definite sense of pride, satisfaction and achievement knowing that I did this all by myself.”
“This” was the desire to bring something new to the seaside town of Ayr, after being inspired by her annual visits to somewhere altogether more glamorous. “I love New York, and in Manhattan they have The Magnolia Bakery, a cupcake shop which was featured in Sex and the City. Despite the growing cupcake craze in recent years, it’s something which Ayr has never had, so I decided to bring it.”
And the locals are certainly grateful. Tamara’s clientele can vary from students of the nearby college to busloads of tourists, but she’s built a small army of regulars, each bringing their own unique quirks to the table. “I hear so many stories from my customers in an average day, some really interesting, some utterly ridiculous, but it all adds to the experience. One thing I think is really important is making sure everyone feels special and everyone is given some of my time. That’s the hard part, when you’re trying to serve other people, but you want to make sure that no one feels abandoned.”
Customers aside, those delicious cakes don’t make themselves- that’s Tamara’s forte. “The first thing I do when I go barrelling in the door in the morning is start making cakes,” she says. “I work out what flavours I’m going to make the night before, so that there’s no panic in the morning if I don’t have the right ingredients. So the cakes are made, the different flavours of frosting to go with the cakes are made, the colour of cupcake cases are selected… everything! Then the cupcakes are cooled, frosted, and by that point I’m ready to open. In between that I prepare the day’s soup, get the coffee machines going and tidy the shop, all ready for turning that open sign.”
As well as juggling cupcakes with customers, Tamara has husband Robert and sons Stefan (21), Christian (19) and Nathan (11) to throw into the mix. So how does she do it? “Not very well sometimes!” she laughs. “It really does feel like there’s not always enough time for everyone, but it’s just a case of being ridiculously well organised. There is always that one hiccup that kind of fucks things up though!”
Despite rarely having a moment to herself there are a few things that make the whole business venture worthwhile for Tamara. “As I’ve said before, I’m really proud of what I’ve managed to do in a relatively short space of time,” she says. “My biggest achievement is, hands down, being the number one restaurant in Ayr on TripAdvisor. It sounds silly, but it’s something I never thought I could do.”
So she’s managed to prove herself wrong, as well as any other doubters, but what would Tamara say to any young people with the business world in their sights? “Prepare for hard work and no holidays,” she begins. “The first thing I did when I was opening was to go to Business Gateway, which is a fairly new government initiative as far as I’m aware; it certainly wasn’t around when I was young. Obviously we’re in a double dip recession just now, so it’s not the ideal time to open a business, but it’s a bit like having children- there’s never an ideal time! You either bite the bullet and do it or you don’t do it at all.”
The Daisy Cupcake Café is located at 15 High Street, Ayr, KA7 1LU.