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Sobo - a change of ownership?

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Saturday 29 January 2011 2.29pm
Taylan - I really wish you hadn't posted your latest SoBo "review".

I was intrigued enough by this thread to plan a special trip to SoBo to see and buy for myself - now I am not going to bother.

However, I wish you good luck with your venture.
Saturday 29 January 2011 7.05pm
Taylan, as others have pointed out, you didn't get the pitch of your post here quite right - to put it mildly. But as a first-time cafe-owner, it's inevitable that mistakes will be made and you can chalk it up as part of the learning curve that lies ahead of you.

In your post, you suggest that our minds are not open to change. That's not strictly true; it depends on the nature of the changes!

I'm not going to pretend that Sobo was perfect before. I found its food selection a bit too limited, with the panini and quiches rarely tempting me. If you intend to expand upon the lunchtime menu - and have already expanded the breakfast menu - then that is good news, provided you sustain the previous commitment to high-quality ingredients.

I've already noted that the service was much warmer on my previous visit than in the last few months under the old ownership, so credit where it's due on that score too.

Now some constructive suggestions. Forgive me if you've already acted on some of these.

Firstly, photos of food on the outside of the cafe: bad idea. It immediately downgrades the place and is regarded by many as cheap and tacky. There's nothing wrong with cheap and tacky if the cafe is, say, a greasyspoon - but that's not what Sobo was, and there are already other greasyspoons in the vicinity, so why join them?

Secondly, Kitkats - and whatever other confectionery you've decided to sell. Why would you want to do this? Since when are coffee shops places you buy confectionery? This is something you get from newsagents and grocery stores, of which there are over half a dozen on this stretch of TBR alone. What's the point of joining in? My advice: ditch the confectionery. It makes it look like you have nothing better to sell - a desperate sign for a coffee shop, and one you should try to avoid.

Thirdly, pay close attention to design. Sobo always sold itself as a cafe and art gallery, and had a clear and coherent ethos and identity. Don't think that things like menu typefaces are trivial and low on any list of priorities; they are actually vital in communicating what kind of cafe you want to be and which customers you want to attract. Many customers now equate attention to design detail with attention to quality of food and drink, so it is worth devoting time to getting this right.

Fourthly, get a website. Here are some good cafe websites: Kaffeine (London), Fernandez and Wells (London), Scandinavian Kitchen (London), Urban Coffee Company (Birmingham), Cafe Select (New York).

Birmingham's Urban Coffee Company is particularly adept at promoting itself. Its website doubles as a blog, it has a presence on Facebook and it's built excellent relationships with its customers. It's even developed an iPhone app enabling you to pre-place your order. Cafe Select's website is much simpler, but gets across the crucial information customers need. It's stylish too. But anything is better than nothing.

I don't want TBR to be any more bereft of businesses than it already is - I want Sobo to succeed and remain a fixture of the street for years to come. I'll pop by soon and see if I can offer any other suggestions.
Saturday 29 January 2011 7.48pm
One thing I forgot to add.

Aoibhneas referred to "the slight sense of desperation... owner standing inside the window looking out for customers".

I think this is actually a really good point. Not referring specifically to Sobo, but more generally, there is something oddly off-putting about seeing the owner of a business with their arms crossed, a despondent expression on the face, their eyes desperately searching the street for customers, almost like they're quietly pleading for you to go in...

Better, I'd suggest, to exude an air of confidence. I used to work for Pret A Manger. Its increasing ubiquity may be depressing, but no one can deny they know a thing or two about customer service. One thing that was drilled into us staff was: during lulls in the day, never stand idle looking bored. Always look busy. Create an air of activity. There is always something to be done. Polish the countertop. Already been polished? Do it again anyway, just so that you look like you're doing something.

It was annoying, but it works...
Saturday 29 January 2011 11.25pm
thank you for all your negative and positive comments

As you already know me so i do not feel like telling my name once more time as everyone now know it, i have read all the comments about my last post i really want to say that many of you understood wrong what i wrote, i want to appoligise if you got me wrong it is because my english is not good enough (i might speak a bit good)to write in a polite way i could not find any polite word i am really shock about what i have read about my post i am really really sorry for that, i did not mean anything bad at all, all i wanted to say is that you guys complaining about me, new sobo, the service just did not give me any credit you all made judgment in the first day,

everyone needs some time to get the things right, and i was trying to get to used to sobo it is only my third week because we had the holidays recently, while i was trying to get to know sobo customers i started having bad commentsabout new sobo,

you all right i have changed sobo a bit, i put pictures, a board, menu, those were the things just to go extra mile thought you would like itn but it did not work, so i have taken all of those, as i mentioned in my old post now sobo is the old sobo the only change is me , we still use the same coffee ground, the same suppliers please do come in and talk to me so that i can do something to improve the service better this was the thing that i wanted to mentiond in my last post.i now changed the art work in sobo you will be amazed when you see them especially THE CHE GUARA, PLEASE COME AND HAVE A LOOK AT THEM,

so once more i do want to appologise if you guys got me wrong i am really sorry, i should have been more carefull i am sorry for that,

please do give me credit,a second chance, i thing everything will get better,

if there is anything you want to know please do let me know, i will be more happy to answer them
please do help us to bring the old sobo back

i am really sorry for old post as i did not mean anyting bad

soooorrrryyy :)
Sunday 30 January 2011 12.29am
Hello Taylan,
I am an old customer of Sobo, but haven't been in due to illness recently, but I look forward to going back soon. I think what has been described are just teething problems, and it is good that you are listening to peoples' comment both good and bad. I am sure things will settle down. I'll be in for my latte and ham and cheese croissant soon!

Best wishes
Sunday 30 January 2011 8.20pm
I'll pop in Taylan. I think you should take huge credit for opening / takeing on a business in the current climate. I really hope you get it right....good luck. The old Sobo owmer obviously wanted out,and god forbid it could have become an estate agents....I imagine the lease is open to all sorts of uses. so I say lets all cut the guy some slack, support him and hope he turns it around.
Sunday 30 January 2011 10.09pm
"cut the guy some slack".. Do any of you lot read Private Eye's 'It's grim up north...London'? - these posts read like Quentin & Sebastian have moved south!
Monday 31 January 2011 11.17am
Hi Taylan

As per my earlier comments, I have been pleased to see some changes to Sobo (nice to get a smile and a warm greeting), but not so pleased with others (to me the coffee is just not as good as it used to be - I think this is because a decent coffee is not just down to the beans you use but making it is actually a real skill and one which I hope you will improve over time).

I think you deserve a huge amount of credit for taking on a new business in these tough times and accepting that a few mistakes have been made. I really hope you are a success and will swing by for brunch on Saturday. Have you considered doing Sunday brunch as well? It always strikes me as odd how few places do open on a Sunday when I would have thought many people are most keen for a breakfast "pick me up".

My main tip would be to try and hire a decent barista, or work hard at making a really really good coffee yourself. I think if you get that right most other things will fall into place.
Monday 31 January 2011 11.39am
Hi Taylan

Firstly well done for coming back to engage with the customers. It must be hard to hear criticism from people when you are trying so hard. I have been a fan of SoBo and I will visit again. For my advice, I would suggest trying to keep Sobo a classy place to visit, as there are few of those on TBR. Keep the food and drink of a high quality, but keep the atmosphere cool and fun, and people will come, no need for freebie offers IMO.
Monday 31 January 2011 5.21pm
Taylan, Gorse is spot-on: Sunday opening would be a massive improvement. I always felt Sobo was missing a trick by not opening on Sundays... it's the one day when I'm 100% guaranteed to want to go and sit in a cafe with a paper.
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