To celebrate #InternationalWomensDay, I paid a visit to Lily’s Bistro – a café owned and created by mother and daughter, Zoe and Kiera.
They both set up the café in the summer of 2017 and have been working hard ever since to create new, creative events and opportunities – whether that’s supporting local artists on a live music evening, hosting an evening of vegan delights, or doing pizza-making workshops with children who have mental difficulties or learning disabilities.
From the outset, Zoe has always wanted to offer employment and work experience opportunities to people who are homeless, have mental health problems or have a learning disability, dedicating much of their time working alongside Porchlight and Skillnet Group. It’s a café with a real community focus, and their live events bring in artists from the local area, whether that’s established local artists such as Sam Brothers or emerging young artists like Daisy Tickel.
It was nearly lunchtime in the café, so things were getting busy in the kitchen – but Zoe and Kiera made time for me to have a cup of tea and a chat about the business.
How did Lily’s Bistro begin?
Kiera: So, my mum has always wanted to own a café. And she’s always wanted to have people with learning disabilities work in the café as well – she’s from a social care background. So it was probably this time last year that we started looking at businesses for sale and thought ‘Why not? Why not do it now, while we’re still young enough to do it?’
It’s brave, going into it and coming from a completely different background – were you apprehensive?
Zoe: I think it always is when you do something new – it’s a bit exciting, a bit terrifying. But it was just the right time. Kiera had always wanted to do marketing, so it seemed like a good opportunity. And I think that people with different learning abilities – they want paid employment – they don’t want to be sitting in art centres all day. You have a whole percentage of the population who want to work and who have the skills to work, and it’s grown from there really.
How have you found working together?
Zoe: We’re alright! We’re quite laid back, but we have our moments. It is good fun and we’ve met really amazing people. We had a little boy in yesterday who was cooking and he was on the autistic spectrum, but he hadn’t really engaged before. Well, he made the pizza and he was hands-on and really enjoying it. And his mum was really chuffed – that’s what’s quite lovely – when you are working with children on the autistic spectrum it’s making a difference to the parents – it can be tough.
How does the charity aspect of it connect?
Zoe: I have always wanted to open it up as a Community Interest Company. We realized that this way, we can apply for grants and apply for funding – the charity side of Lily’s Bistro will hopefully eventually help to pay for us to employ people with different needs and abilities.
Are you doing live music events as well?
Zoe: Before Christmas, it was going really well. Trying to crack the evenings, we’ve found really challenging. We’ve had some really great gigs, but sometimes it’s a struggle to break even to pay the artist.
Whats your dream for the business?
Zoe: To draw a salary, so my husband isn’t moaning at me! We’re so wrapped up in it all, I haven’t really thought about it. Really, just for the business to sustain itself and to make a difference to people. To get the business ticking over really – to not have the stress of the first year.
What were you up to before starting?
Kiera: I was in college, wasn’t happy in the sixth form. Then I studied agriculture, but got to about halfway through the 2nd year and still wasn’t happy. I was looking at three different courses at two different universities. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I thought, do you know what? I’ll work in the business with my mum.
I’d worked for a business before I came and the experience tied in quite nicely with that. That was that really.
How old are you now?
Kiera: I’m 20 – it was probably this time last year that we were looking at starting a business. I really like the marketing, the web design and the social media. I have started doing my own social media thing on the side and taking over the social media for The King’s Mile. Hopefully, in the next week or two, I’ll start doing that – it’s a bit more experience.
What advice would you give to someone who was starting a business?
Kiera: Find a good accountant. People around you are a godsend – friends and family have been brilliant. You can’t do it without that at all. People who understand that you’re not going to have money or time to go out. Find a balance of people who understand that you can’t always be there.
Visit https://lilysbistrocatering.com/ to find out more or visit them in person at 15 Palace St, Canterbury CT1 2DZ