Lunch with...Dame Kelly Holmes

01/06/2015 - 07:24
Retired British middle distance athlete Dame Kelly Holmes opened her first commercial venture – Café 1809 – in her home town of Hildenborough, Kent late last year. Maria Bracken finds out how this challenge compares to her days as a double Olympic gold medal winner

What inspired you to go into the cafe sector?

There used to be a sweet shop that I worked in when I was 16 and I was also a paper round girl there when I was 13. When I was an athlete I tried to buy the building as I wanted something that brought the community together and something that would brighten up and bring a bit of sparkle to my home village of Hildenborough.

Coffee houses have become a social place for people to meet and relax and I love that I have brought an amazing meeting hub to the community.

What's the story behind the name Cafe 1809?

Cafè 1809 is named after my Athens race number, where I won my two gold medals at the Olympics games in 2004. I wanted to call it something that was attached to me but subtle. However, although I’ve tried to be subtle because I have lived in Hildenborough all my life – to the locals it's commonly known as Kelly's cafe!

I understand you were heavily involved in the building work, can you identify some of the challenges?

Yes - the first challenge was gaining planning permission for the work that we wanted to have done. To be honest I found the process really tough. You are trying to convince people of your vision and something that you are very clear on how it will look in the end and the benefits that it will have to the community. But one thing I found out is that people don’t like change.

The next challenge was to make sure that all the professionals who were contracted to assist with the project were all communicating effectively. Once we had this process in place the work became easier.
It only took 10 days for the demolition and this was to get rid of 90% of the old building. The biggest job was then spending 6 months on the groundwork which really was a massive and time consuming – yet crucial job.

Did this project come in within budget and schedule?

Probably not, but I am happy with the overall result. I had a vision and I wanted it to turn out like that. Now the hard work is ahead!

How has business been since opening?

We opened on December 5th 2014 and it has been great – just as I had hoped. There is still a lot to do and lots to learn but that is part of the fun. We have been really busy and the atmosphere in the Café has been great. There have been plenty of repeat customers as well which is certainly a good sign.  

Your menu items are kick, pacemaker, was this always your intention to link your Olympian days with your menu offering?

Again it was about bringing some of me to the cafè but in a subtle way.  I certainly can’t take all the credit as I have a couple of people who have worked with me to help come up with the menu and the names. I think it works and I have to say the final kick is our best seller.

Identify some of the unique design elements of the cafe

I would say it is chic. Warehouse but homely.

We have a yogurt machine built into the wall and a juice bar. The ceiling looks like concrete but it's actually wallpaper. There are lots of different textures throughout. We also have different areas that can be used for various bookings – private parties, meetings, entertainment. We have bikes hanging in the windows of the pavilion.  Upstairs there is a beauty room and the function room can also double up as a cinema room.

How do these physical/emotional challenges compare to those you faced as an Olympian?

The frustration of not seeing the project progress quicker could compare to being injured as an athlete – in terms of some things just taking more time even though you would like them to move on faster.

Being emotionally involved means you put so much time and energy into it that you have to stay focused on the end goal. You have to believe that what you are doing will all be worth it in the end.

For those out there looking to start up their own cafe or coffee shop, what advice would you offer them?

Try and get all your paperwork in place – it takes time but it is a key element for any project of this sort. Be clear and know how you want things to run and how you want food presented. 

Aside from the cafe, what else takes up your time?

I founded and chair my own charity the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust
We help disadvantaged young people make positive changes to their lives, with the aim of getting them back into education, training or employment through personal development programmes.
I also do motivational speaking engagements, as well as work overseas for a health insurance company.

Do you miss your days as an athlete?

Not really because I worked so hard to get where I got to. I was competing as an international athlete for 12 years.

I do, however, miss having a training schedule and something to go for with my fitness but there will always be something around the corner I’m sure!

What's your five year plan?

I would like to learn more in business and would also like to open another couple of Cafè 1809’s through various business partnerships. Take up any other opportunities that may come along, as you never know where they may take you.

Sum up your life now in five words?

Busy, unpredictable, exciting, challenging and adventurous.

How do these compare to your Olympian days?

My life now is very different to being an athlete as this was structured and focused on one main goal. Now it’s about trying new things and there is something about being out of my comfort zone which is also exciting.

Are you still as competitive as you used to be?

Always. Mainly with myself as I like to push myself to continue to be good at whatever I do.

What has been your biggest personal achievement?

Achieving my dreams. Joining the British army, becoming an Olympic champion,  making a difference to people who live through my charity and starting my Cafè in my hometown. Hopefully there is more to come.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I don’t get a lot but when I do it’s trying to keep as fit as I can!

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