“I loved the Forces. I only left as there were no promotion opportunities – I thought to myself ‘if I don’t go now, I’ll never go’. The military remains a big part of our lives and identity and, when the opportunity to take on the café in the MOD Community Centre came up, I knew I had to go for it.”
Emma is not a novice to the food and drink industry; she was a partner in her family sandwich shop business in Lancashire for many years. Since getting married 14 years ago, Emma changed her role from working in the shop, to dealing with all the business administration aspects, including suppliers, finance and HR. This allowed her still to run the business remotely through different postings, including a term in Cyprus. By 2021, the family had settled in their forever home in Corsham and Emma yearned to find an additional role nearby, which she could work alongside the family business. Isolated home working was unfulfilling; she wanted to maintain a good work-life balance but return to working with people, something she loves to do.
“Over time, I found working from home very isolating and struggled with separating homelife distractions from work. I was passionate about finding an opportunity that would allow me to still own my family business but take on a second role in which I could work with people. I made a ‘wish list’ which included working around school times, not working weekends, being close to home so I’m always around for the boys, working with people in the community and a job I love getting up for. The cafe ticks all the boxes – I’m 270 steps away from my front door! – and I feel extremely lucky. When the opportunity came up, I grabbed the chance with both hands and haven’t looked back. I love it! My husband was so supportive, which I am extremely grateful for. It was a risk financially and emotionally; a decision that could have knocked us off balance as a family. Luckily, it all worked out perfectly.”
Emma’s vision was deeper than a quick service restaurant, and she pinned down the offering with a new name and strapline, ‘Dandelion Coffee House: more than just a coffee house’. While serving quality food and drink, Emma wanted to create a safe, warm and welcoming environment.
“There are large numbers of Armed Forces families in Corsham, just like us, and that’s where the name came from. Like the dandelion plant, military children bloom everywhere the winds carry them. They are hardy and upright. They’re ready to fly in the breezes that take them to new adventures, new lands, and new friends. This building’s purpose has always been to bring the community together and keep spirits up, and that’s exactly what I aimed to do.”
Emma accessed a Start Up Loan of £6,000 through X-Forces Enterprise (XFE), which she used towards upgrading the décor, furniture and equipment as well as the illustrated branding and website. XFE allocated Emma a personal Business Advisor who closely supported her through the planning process and the 12 months post-launch, in a programme supported by the Royal British Legion.
“The process of applying for the Start Up Loan was more beneficial than I’d expected. It forced me to think carefully about wages and supplier costs, and develop a detailed business plan and cashflow forecast, which I probably wouldn’t have written otherwise.”
Emma opened the doors to the Dandelion Coffee House in December 2020. The response was encouraging but, just three weeks later, they were forced to close under Covid regulations, not to open again until May 2021. Emma used the downtime to take three of XFE’s Masterclass workshops, which focused on online presence, small enterprise development and evolving customer personas. Emma also joined the XFE HUB, an exclusive space to connect business owners from the military community.
“When the coffee house first opened in late 2020, I was well aware of the Covid landscape and changing regulations but was committed to the business and had to adapt day-to-day. I found the support from XFE to be really helpful during this period and made the most of the closure to refine the business plan after some trading time, albeit short-lived, and connect with others like me. I enjoyed putting my business head on, learning and listening to other’s challenges while sharing my experiences.”
Through 2022, Emma developed a devoted customer following and addressed a significant need in the community. The Dandelion Coffee Shop regularly plays host to social groups including babies and toddlers, walkers and thrift swapping ladies. Working closely with local agencies, the coffee shop also plays warm host to Age UK wellness drop-in events and support gatherings for carers on the fourth Thursday of every month.
“We have a fortnightly adult’s craft club, and a monthly community ‘wisdom walk’, allowing customers to learn how to connect with nature and meet new people plus a monthly table top sale at which the community can sell their pre loved items and we can all grab a bargain!”
Complementing the barista-made coffee and drinks, Emma has designed a varied menu full of fresh produce. Favourite items are all-day breakfasts, jacket potatoes, paninis and burgers, all made to order by Emma and the one full-time and two part-time staff she employs.
“Not all activities at the Coffee House are incoming generating, it has a community purpose. I love that groups meet here, and I welcome back familiar faces week after week. It’s a space that is full of warmth, and I take great pride in that role as a host. I have been that person arriving at a new posting, not knowing anyone, or the new mum struggling with a colicky baby. Customers feel they can relax here, and chat with me and the team, and I think that interaction makes a difference in our post-pandemic lives.
Community collaboration is also at the heart of the Dandelion Coffee Shop. Emma sells cakes by local bakers, the coffee shop walls feature paintings by a local artist who aims to get people talking about mental health, and the business has created a social media job opportunity via the government’s Kickstart Scheme to upskill the unemployed. Just as her strapline suggests that Dandelion is ‘more than a coffee house’, it is true to say that Emma is more than a business owner; she’s a fine example of a dedicated community servant whose work is improving people’s lives.
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For more information about Emma’s business, visit: