A background in car sales and fashion may not be the usual ingredients needed to grow a thriving cafe empire upon but for one couple this combination has proven a success.
Reg and Alison Howe opened Reg’s Cafe on the Thorpe Way industrial estate in Banbury just three and a half years ago and it has since been the recipient of national awards.
For the past two years the cafe has won the Food Awards’ best Cafe/Bistro for the entire south of England and it has been shortlisted for the national event finals again this year.
Reg Howe said: “Where the cafe is was an empty room and Alison said to me what are we going to do with that? I said I’m going to put a cafe in there.
“She said ‘what do you know about food’ and I said ‘ well I can cook egg and bacon and there must be a million people that want plain food like me.”
Indeed there was and its success has bred success with the business being such a hit that it has just opened in its fourth location in Bloxham Mill.
Additionally Reg’s Cafe has been able to diversify and offer its award winning service and menu to a wider audience.
Reg said: “After about four days we were packed so we opened seven days a week. Then people were asking if we had a sandwich van, so we put a sandwich van on the road. Then businesses were asking do we do business lunches so we opened a catering company to accommodate that.”
With many food-based businesses failing within the first 12 months Reg and Alison put their success down to three simple factors; value for money, fresh ingredients and good customer service.
The cafe has also become a meeting place and social hub for many towns people despite its out of the way location.
Reg said: “We get people come in here everyday and they’ve made so many friends through being in here.
“We’ve got people that come every weekend to meet people they know will be in here.”
Alison added: “People meet up and then go off from here. They might meet here Saturday morning before going into town or meet on Sunday morning recovering after a night on the town.”
The cafe has also been buoyed by genius brand marketing and social media advertising campaigns engineered by Alison.
Reg’s Cafe logo was designed by Alison and is based on London street signage and their Facebook campaigns have proved a wild success.
Reg said: “Alison set up a photo-bombing competition. I thought she was barking mad when she did. It was two years ago when we first did it and we give a prize at the end of the year for the best photo.
“We probably give out 3,000 business cards a year to people who want to take part in it.”
The competition requires diners of Reg’s Cafe to take a picture of the cafe’s business card in the most unusual or far flung destinations they find themselves and images of the instantly recognisable cafe logo have been snapped in all four corners of the globe.
The couple are not planning to rest on their laurels and hope to open a town centre cafe in the near future and are passing on their business acumen to local students.
Reg said: “We are now working with the college and we’re taking students and we’re going to be setting up, longer term, a training academy with the college.”
Alison added: “They can all cook but it might take them all day to do it and that doesn’t happen in the real world. So it’s time, management and business skills that we are looking to give them.”
The cafes currently employ 20 full-time employees with an additional eight students gaining valuable experience to one day follow in the footsteps of one of Banbury’s most celebrated businesses.