Tucked away in the postcard village of Cranbrook there lies a secret. A secret that in my book, is too good to keep. For years I have been seeking the perfect place to go with my girlfriends to have a delicious home cooked meal or, indulge in some cake. Oh yes, the surroundings also have to be breathtakingly beautiful, and the service exceptional. A tall order some may say, but it is my great pleasure to tell you that the wait is officially over.
Cocolicious is the baby of Lucinda (LouLou) Hamilton, a lady who is every bit as fabulous as the patisserie she has lovingly created. I could listen to LouLou talk for hours about the adventures she has had in her life. To give you a flavour (no pun intended!) of these, LouLou has been known to do acrobatics on horseback, and even made her own wedding cake for what turned out to be a rather stormy occasion – thankfully of the meteorological type as opposed to family disagreements!
Starting her career under the watchful eye of Anton Mosimann at his renowned dining club in Belgavia, LouLou developed her natural flair for amazing attention to detail and customer service. These traits were developed further at The Ritz (does a learning ground for hospitality get any better than this?!) and The Athenaeum Hotel. Later on in her career she ran the catering department of a large London law firm, a time described by LouLou as “running my own empire, within a company… with a large budget” – What a great place to practise running your own business!
Via a move to Kent, 3 children, and running a successful catering business from home, Cocolicious was born to a fanfare of pastel pink floors. Now a hallowed ground for amazing cake, the brand continues to build on it’s previous success. As a fabulous champion of women in business, LouLou was kind enough to share her ‘ingredients’ for running a successful empire with me, and so, without further ado, I will share her wise words below…
~ Perfect your offering to amaze your target market
If you have a great product that you know your target market will love, people will come. Therefore getting your product right is essential. Cocolicious is a place for not only girls to feel at home, or mummies with children, but everyone. We just really aim to offer an amazing environment where people can feel at home and refuel. Whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, a girl cannot live on cake alone, (despite what they want!) so while it is a priority for me to be able to offer the perfect baked delight for women, it is essential to offer great home cooked meals too.
~ Keep inspiring yourself
This is so, so important. No matter how much you love your business and how much you plan to ensure it reaches the lofty heights of whatever you have imagined for it, you will lose enthusiasm if you don’t take the time to inspire yourself. We are lucky to live in the days of social media, and an abundance of inspiration can be found daily on platforms such as Instagram. I take my main inspiration from the Middle East & Australasia. I also particularly love the work of Yotam Ottolenghi, whom I was lucky enough to work with recently. I like Peggy Porschen for her fabulous cakes, although it is important to me that I continue to put my own twist on the inspiration I draw. For me, it’s also about drawing from what is happening on the London food scene, so, for example, we have been experimenting with a twist on the traditional afternoon tea. Afternoon Tea is big at the moment, and venues are now searching for the ‘edge’ as to how to make their food just a little bit unusual. We are currently experimenting with adding sweet sushi and goat’s cheese profiteroles to our Afternoon Tea menus.
~ Add a sprinkling of quirks
Putting your own stamp onto things is crucial, and customers love it. One of our company’s key traits is the naming of our baked creations. We have ‘Jackson’, our gluten free chocolate brownies named after my son, all the way through to ‘Carrie’ our carrot cake. It doesn’t end there, and we now have names for most of our ingredients and kitchen apparatus! My personal favourite though has to be ‘Hold on Dave’, our nickname for our home made Hollandaise sauce! It always makes me laugh! We will also periodically have balloons in the shop and we serve our food mostly on vintage china.
~ Keep it fresh
While people love our signature dishes, we ensure we keep their attention by trying new things. We change our menu daily so customers always have a different choice, and the opportunity to try something new. After all, the customer comes first.
~ Build an ‘A – Team’
I have extremely high standards, which for me, goes hand in hand with being hideous at delegating! But, in order to grow my business I had to build a team, not just any team, but a team that would be creative, work hard and meet my standards. Not an easy order! I was fortunate enough when I held interviews, to find Ginny and Sarah who now produce our cooked delights. Not only did they fit my ‘must love pink’ criteria in the job description, but they also share my enthusiasm for producing the best cooking they possibly can consistently. I let them create and implement their own ideas, which makes me slightly nervous (again, letting go can be hard!), but they always do a fantastic job. I am so lucky as they are very special girls – they have guts and enthusiasm, what more can I ask for?! I am aware of huge impact that having the opportunity to learn had on my career, and I hope that I am able to give this gift to my girls and support them as they develop.
~ Keep your standards HIGH
I was very privileged to have Anton Mosimann as a mentor. I was thrown into the deep end, and given a very hard time, but I learnt so many valuable lessons under his guidance. He would explain to me the reasons behind why attention to detail was so important, and how to make a difference through the detail. This continues to paramount in my business today. For example, even the marshmallows on our hot chocolate drinks are handmade by us. They are toasted with a blow torch just before serving so the customer receives it crisp but soft – just the way they should be.
~ Have a dream and believe
Cocolicious originated as business that I ran from home as it was so important for me to be at home for my children. It then developed into something more serious, and now I hope it is something my children will what to be involved in one day. I would love to build the Cocolicious empire to include a book and more patisseries. My advice to any woman looking to start a business would be to go for it. Yes it is scary, especially if you are a mother. You will worry daily about the impact your business is having on your children, but now, few women have the choice to be lucky enough to stay at home full time. Better therefore, to do something on your terms. Believe in what you are doing, if you do something really well, people will come.
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I don’t just love Cocolicious for the fact that we share the same (first part at least!) name, nor for the abundance of pink that greets you when you walk through the doors. For me, the key ingredient to the success of Cocolicious is something less tangible… that ingredient, is love. From the love that the girls pour into their cooking, to the welcoming front of house ladies, (one of whom exclaimed ‘ oh my goodness your fringe is great!’ while serving me) all the way through to the awesome LouLou’s genuine interest when she speaks to all her customers. Love radiates from everything that they do, and that’s what makes this little haven so very special.
Cocolicious – Stone Street, Cranbrook, Kent, TN13 3NF. 01580 714954