A family business is optimistic about the future of Doncaster town centre – and they’re proving that with their new shop.
Carol Shekle left teaching just a few years ago to go into business with her daughter, Hannah. Now, four years after they first set up as specialist cake and dessert bakers, they have expanded to run their own cafe at a prime town centre site.
Carol was a primary school teacher, most recently at St Oswald’s School in Finningley, and at St Josephs and St Teresa’s School in Woodlands. She was also a committee member on the National Childbirth Trust and a non-executive director of Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals Trust for six years.
But four years ago, she decided on a big change – leaving teaching to run Dreambakes, with daughter Hannah, who has worked in catering both in the UK and France.
Carol said: “I think my background has provided me with the organisational skills that you need to run a business. It’s a background which sets you up well for training staff and dealing with customers, and dealing with issues as they arise.
“On top of that, we’ve had a family tradition of home baking.
“Hannah was helping make the family Christmas cake from the age of five.”
Hannah herself left school and went to university to study French. For a year out as part of her course, she went to work in a French patisserie, developing her skills.
After graduation, she went into catering, first in a cafe in Selfridges, in Manchester, and then in other venues.
But when her mum approached her about setting up Dreambakes, she was keen to get involved, and moved back to Doncaster to do so.
Dreambakes first went into business in October 2014. At that point, the business toured farmers markets and wedding fairs, selling deserts and taking orders for specially commissioned cakes for big occasions such as weddings.
That led to deals with hotels, and a large Doncaster staff cafe, to provide them with desserts for their menus. It was a good steady income for the business.
As they grew, they started to think about opening their own venue, and initially looked at venues outside the town centre.
“We’d been thinking about opening our own place because we thought we would get more interaction with our customers,” said Hannah. “Originally we were looking for something out of town, somewhere like a garden centre. We talked with Business Doncaster, and they suggested looking in the town centre. We started to warm to the idea.
“We were approached about the unit that we are in now. It used to be the Sugar Lounge bar. It was quite hard to envisage how we could change it originally, but Business Doncaster helped us with that, and we decided to take it. We finally opened in May this year.”
Carol said they had seen the local authority’s vision for the town centre, including improvements to the market, the station area and some of the main streets, and had bought into it.
She and Hannah are active members of the Doncaster Town Centre business forum.
The shop aims to provide the sort of modern deli and cafe that are found in big cities, in Doncaster.
It caters for vegetarians, and people with food intolerances to milk and gluten, offering several options for each of those groups, as well as those who eat meat.
They have also looked to source as many ingredients locally as possible, including breads, jams. The tea is blended locally.
The next phase of the business plan is to develop the deli side of the business, selling many of the ingredients used on the menu, ranging from vegan cheese made of cashew nuts, to a Yorkshire manufactured cheese based on haloumi. It cannot be called haloumi, because it was not made in Cyprus.
Carol believes it is important to embrace the community, and has run a number of special events in the cafe. They are currently considering bringing in a book club.
But the previous core business of cakes still remains, and often provides challenges for Hannah.
The more difficult orders often involve complicated detail in writing on the cake.
Orders themselves can be quite flexible.
“One of the more difficult ones was the request ‘do something hilarious’,” Hannah said.