Ok, so after many many requests from lots and lots of people to please tell them in detail how Cleopatra’s Coffee shop & Bistro came to be. People seem to be intrigued by our story, and listen with eagerness as we talk them through our journey. How I, Philippe ended up in Wrexham, in North Wales, married to Helen, from Wrexham, and how together we formed a partnership that changed our lives forever.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be adding to this Blog, and will ask Helen for her input when things need to be told by her side. Through this Blog, we will begin our journey in 2013, and bring you right up to current day. we will give you a detailed vision of how two complete strangers met, started a business together, got married and managed to create a venue that has become synonymous with good quality, great service and positive attitudes in Wrexham.
The date is January 5th 2013, I (Philippe) have just received a phone call from my parents, who were living in Rossett, North Wales, that they will be coming to South Africa to spend 4 months with me. I am delighted, the last time I saw my parents was 2 years before.
That summer was amazing, having my folks staying with me, seeing them everyday and listening to their stories of life in the UK made me think about the possibility of moving to the UK myself. However, after almost 40 years of living in the same country, and a great country at that, I was loathe to pack up and move abroad. However, unfortunately for South Africa, things over the last few years had deteriorated drastically. Crime was up, unemployment was down and the future of South Africa lay in the hands of the then current ANC party. My future was unsure, and the future of my then 11 year old daughter was even more unsure.
My parents left South Africa in the middle of May 2013 to return to the UK, and once again, I was alone. The memories of our conversations kept me awake at night, and the urge to possibly come to the UK grew stronger and stronger, but the one key reason to not leave South Africa was my daughter. I didn’t want to leave her behind and start a new life in a foreign country without her. I was torn in 2.
In late May 2013, my decision to move to the UK was made for me, when a friend of mine, who was at my house having a braai decided to pop to the local shop for some more beers. He left our complex, and never returned. After a few hours of not being back, we got concerned and started making phone calls. His phone was off, and after eventually getting hold of his parents we found out that he had been hijacked right outside the shop. ( Hijack meaning: – when somebody shoots you through your car window, opens the door, throws the body out and steals your car). Fortunately, or possibly unfortunately for Greg, he was shot in the neck, paralyzing him instantly from the neck down. The hijackers could not get the car door open and after a few minutes ran away without stealing his car.
So, the very next day, I called my parents and told them that I was coming to live in the UK, could they give me a place to stay for a few months until I landed on my feet. Of course they were delighted and of course accommodation was no problem. So, I booked my ticket with Emirates for the 1st July 2013 and went about selling every single thing I owned (except a few personal items that came with me).
I boarded the plane at OR Tambo international airport and all I had with me was my Ipad bag, and two plastic containers in the hull of the plane with a few clothes and some personal artifacts. I felt so free and exhilarated, my new life was about to begin, my new future was just a few hours away from me making it happen. A few Jameson whiskies later and I touched down in Manchester. (It was partly sunny and partly wet outside). But this was my new home. I was in the UK and heading to Rossett.
The next few weeks were absolutely bizarre, I was so overjoyed for being in the UK, but on the other hand I very quickly started feeling homesick. I missed the gorgeous African sunshine, I missed the African culture, I missed lighting a braai (BBQ) in the evenings and most importantly, I missed my daughter.
There were days that I told myself I have made a huge mistake, there were days when I was sad and upset, and there were days that I was thrilled to be here. The next few months in the UK was like a roller coaster ride. But each day I woke up and thought to myself, today is going to be better than yesterday. And so the long journey of adapting to life in the UK began.
When I left South Africa, I had implemented a real time consumer feedback system, that was running in about 60 stores around South Africa. My biggest client was Pick & Pay (Tesco equivalent) and that gave me enough money to be self sufficient for a few months in the UK. My idea was that I would introduce this amazing system to companies in the UK and carry on doing what I knew best. Being an entrepreneur is not easy, it is even less easy when you are trying to be an entrepreneur in a foreign country. I very quickly realized, that without local knowledge, and a history of living in the UK, running your own business was going to be very hard work. So, unfortunately, my real time feedback system needed to be put on hold, and I had to do something that could earn me money from day dot. Cleopatra’s Foods was born.
In September 2013, My mom, Cleopatra and I started making South African dunking biscuits in our kitchen. We got registered with the local authorities, and after our kitchen was inspected and given the approval to make for markets we set out and started doing just that. |We had 5 flavors of dunking biscuits which we baked, dried and packed all by ourselves and then started looking for artisan markets to sell our products to.
We very quickly made a name for ourselves, and before long we were attending 3 to 4 markets a week, as well as having our products in a number of outlets across the UK (Grosvenor garden center, Hawerden farm shop and a few shops in London to name a few). We increased our range of products to include, cheeses, home made seed loaf bread, a chilli sauce and a chilli and cranberry sauce.
Life at the markets became the norm, we would bake and cook for most of the week and then on weekends we would head out to markets across the UK to sell our wares. The market life was a funny one. There were some markets when the sun was shining and the weather was good and people would be out in the hundreds, and those were good, then there were days when you arrived at your pitch, and it was pouring with rain, we had to setup in the rain, try and stay warm and try and sell to the few brave morsels that had ventured out that day. But, no matter what the market life gave us, the one thing it gave us was an income.
In November 2013, we had heard that there was a Christmas market taking place at Erddig, it was apparently a very good market to attend as the foot fall was big. So we decided to bite the bullet and pay the large pitch fee with the hope that the foot fall would be huge and we would make our money back. A few weeks before the Erddig market was due to start, we got asked by the organizers of the Chester Race Course, Winter Wonderland if we would be interested in having a pitch at this years show. There had been a cancellation, and the pitch fee had been reduced, and we decided that the opportunity was too big to miss, so we booked ourselves into that market too. Unfortunately, we now had two very big markets on at the same time, so we needed to make sure we had enough stock to cover both events, and we needed to decide who would be attending which markets. The decision was made that I would go to Erddig for the next 4 weeks, and my mom and dad would man the stand at the Chester Christmas Wonderland.
This is where the story gets exciting.
See the next Blog soon.