We have the ball rolling on our project - opening Aberdeen's first vegan cafe. We've found a wonderful premises and entered into a lease, started work on the fit out with our limited funds, now we're fundraising for the rest of the fit out. We've been planning this for a long time, running Bonobo as a pop-up cafe for 18 months. Now we're here. We hope you'll get behind us!
We're offering free teas and coffees amongst other awesome perks, and if you prefer, we'll arrange to pass those hot drinks on to vulnerable people in Aberdeen. We're working with local charities Inspire and Aberdeen Cyrenians to do this. See our project updates for more information on this.
Two reasons to open a vegan cafe in Aberdeen (or anywhere!):
1) To provide the vegan community of the city (and its visitors) with a place that caters entirely for them.
2) To provide the non-vegan community with an option and an opportunity to see how "normal" and delicious vegan food is. It's important to us to show people that it's not a way of eating exclusively for the rich or the health conscious. Vegan food can be anything you want it to be. Veganism is do-able!
Over a year ago, we started up a volunteer-run pop-up cafe for these reasons. Running the cafe on a Saturday was hard work, but it was fun, exciting and rewarding too. Now, we want to be there fulfilling this role for Aberdeen every day.
The work we did to make the pop-up successful, in creating delicious food and working on strong branding, was absolutely essential to giving us the skills and confidence to take the next leap.
Bonobo Cafe has existed in some form as a pop-up cafe for over a year, starting life as a small vegan tea and coffee morning. In February 2016 the cafe was relaunched as Bonobo, with renewed purpose, and staffed with passionate volunteers. Every Friday and Saturday since the relaunch, the team has been utterly dedicated to the pop-up.
Fridays were baking days, when work was split between our two kitchens and the cooks created a large selection of savoury dishes, interesting and substantial wraps, salads, cakes and sweet pies. You can check out some of our work on Instagram.
On Friday evenings we transformed our regular residence, the Aberdeen Wellbeing Centre, into Bonobo Cafe. If you walked past the centre on a Friday night you would see us lugging tables, chairs and crockery to fill the empty room upstairs. In February we were able to decorate the space to suit everyone who uses it, using natural wood branches to cover the ceiling, paint a calming green on the walls, and put plants in every corner. Our distinctive style was born. The pop up cafe with the fresh new interior, new branding and renewed energy couldn't help but be a fun place to just be. Together, the volunteers painted a large nature mural, inviting the community to take up a paintbrush and join in.
We've been dedicated to building a great reputation for having friendly service, tasty vegan food, and a laid back and informal atmosphere. We’re proud of what has been created from a grassroots level, and the lessons learned along the way proved invaluable. As a result of hard work and high demand, the cafe became very busy and we’re quietly confident that we’ve set Bonobo in good stead for success.
During the time we were running the pop-up cafe, the menu evolved into something we’re quite proud of and that our customers love. It’s something we’re always creatively improving, and we have some exciting new ideas for the full-time cafe. In Spring, in the new place, expect cooked breakfasts, chilli bowls, burgers, decadent desserts, a variety of classic and experimental sandwiches, bagels and paninis as well as our delicious cakes made in house by our lovely bakers.
We've also been renowned for making a wide variety of delicious vegan cakes with plenty of gluten free options. We regularly fulfilled orders for celebration cakes too, made with quality wholefood ingredients. See our perk structure for the option to have a celebration cake made to order. You can check out some of our previous creations on Facebook.
We closed the pop-up at the end of November in order to concentrate our efforts on opening full time.
Using the money we have made by running the pop up without taking wages, and with the help of a few passionate investors, we have paid legal fees and put down the deposit for a new property which we will run the cafe from, full time.
Creating the Co-Operative
Bonobo became a Limited Company in December 2016 and the constitution was changed, to that of a workers' co-operative, by resolution of its 6 founding members. This was the vision from the outset of the pop-up, and the purpose is to ensure employees of the business have, and always will have, democratic control of the work place and decide how to distribute profits. It ensures that the cafe always effectively serves the community it was created for.
Planning & Preparation
While negotiating our lease, we have been collecting furniture, equipment, and completing our business plan ready for opening. We have also been building relationships with local businesses such as Everyday Organics, a veg box delivery startup, who will be supplying organic fruits and vegetables to the cafe.
Bonobo is now at a place where funding is needed to complete the project.
We need a minimum of £12,000 to pay Kickstarter fees, fulfill the perks we are offering, buy equipment, crockery and food stock, to decorate, pay the first month’s rent, and to complete essential building works.
The Ground Floor
The kitchen needs to be fully fitted with equipment, plumbing and storage, and the extraction ducts and filters need to be industrially cleaned. We will build a dividing wall between the service area and the kitchen, and a counter will house display fridges, storage and a coffee machine. By the window we'll construct a comfortable cushioned seating area using pallet wood. We'll open up the space up to the stairs by removing the wall up to the WC, which we will be flooring with one penny pieces to create a mosaic of copper tones.
The First Floor
We're reforming the back rooms of the first floor to make them functional and to make the most of the space we have for storage and food prep. Expect slate floor tiles coupled with a calming light green on the walls and plants tumbling from on high in the main seating area. We’ll be building our own furniture for the interior seating along the windows, again using reclaimed pallet wood, and upholstering using colourful patterned material in our distinctive style while rosewood tables and chairs provide the rest of the seating.
Now for something truly special - the garden. A pallet pergola will form an outdoor dining area, complete with lush borders of fragrant plants, tumbling vines and colourful blooms. Expect heaters, blankets and candles as you enjoy your meal in the garden, where we’ll be growing some of our own organic vegetables, fruits and herbs.
We could go to a bank to find these funds, but we want to give the cafe the best possible chance of succeeding. We think through crowdfunding, we can give the cafe this chance while offering our customers and supporters some things of real value and create an invested community. The reward structure gives you the opportunity to use the cafe more than you otherwise might have, so we intend to make it a special place to be. Other great things are on offer too and if you’re from out of town, we will find a person in need to give those free teas and coffees to.
So if this seems like a project you’d like to get behind, please see our full Perk Structure to see how you could be rewarded for supporting the birth of Aberdeen’s first vegan cafe.
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Risks and challenges
We are working on a very tight budget and we have a big vision. We want our Bonobo home to feel just like a home would, and also express who we are as a group and as individuals.
SOLUTION: To make sure we achieve our goal within our target budget, we are:
1. Working to source second hand/ free materials and furnishings.
We have been collecting second hand furnishing for the past 6 months and will continue to do so. Some of the interior seating, outdoor seating, and an outdoor pergola will be constructed using reclaimed pallet wood. We have some skilled friends, family and volunteers ready with power tools to help and guide us in doing this. This upcycling activity is also better for the environment than purchasing all new furnishings and we like the resulting look and feel.
2. Purchasing expensive equipment on lease.
Our more expensive equipment will be purchased on lease. This reduces the initial capital required, takes care of maintenance costs and means we can be flexible, swapping equipment easily if it doesn’t suit our needs.
3. Completing electrical work ourselves.
The essential rewiring that the property requires will be completed in line with legislation by one of our founding members (an electrical design engineer) and his father (a registered electrician). This represents a significant saving for us and the low costs involved are predictable.
4. Thoroughly planning and researching costs of the fit out and stock.
We have researched the costs we have identified, and planned for hidden expenses with a contingency fund. We have also been lucky enough to have had advice from several people in the business community, business consultants, other small business owners, lawyers and other professionals who have helped us to consider all potential costs of the fit out.
PERMISSIONS: The permissions for the change of use for the outside patio and the building plans are still pending. We'll be updating our campaign as soon as we hear confirmation from the council.
CHALLENGE: Finishing on Time
We have negotiated a 3 month rent free period and have set ourselves this time to complete the project. As we want to do as much work ourselves as possible (and this is the first time we’re doing this!) there is always a risk that the work will take longer than predicted, especially as half of our founding members work full time, and this means the work will be dependant on people’s schedules.
SOLUTION: We have some members who are not in full time employment and who are dedicating themselves to the fit out. We have also put out a call to action in our newsletter and to friends and family, with an overwhelming positive response of people volunteering time and skills to help us complete. To organise our volunteers we have appointed an experienced human resources manager from the founding members to assign tasks, and make sure everyone knows what they are doing and where their energy is best spent. We are creating a detailed project plan with contingencies factored in to hopefully get everything done on time.
RISK: Declining Economy in Aberdeen
We are well aware that the decreased oil production in the area caused a decline in Aberdeen’s economy which affected all businesses (and individuals) in the area. Some high street shops and restaurants closed and people have less expendable income. Once we are open, we hope to guard against insolvency with a robust business plan.
SOLUTION: We are addressing this situation in several different ways:
1) We will provide affordable options
2) We provide a unique offering (a fully vegan menu) that no other cafe/restaurant offers in Aberdeen, making us a niche supplier of a growing food market
3) We plan to use the space in creative ways, organising workshops, screenings and evening events as well as renting the space for private/evening events providing additional streams of revenue. This will be dependant on gaining the necessary approvals from the council, who we are currently in talks with.
4) We plan for Bonobo to stand out as an ethical and creative business with an interesting and unique ethos and space.
5) We have amongst our members a talented photographer and an experienced marketing guru - two important skills which we intend to use to the fullest effect.
6) We have a thorough business plan and cash flow, which has been continually updated and modified over the past several months, and will continue to be consulted and adapted to help us navigate the difficult financial times.
RISK: Cooperative Model Challenges
Being a cooperative business is very important to us, it is an expression of our values. We believe this model is a robust one which protects the interests of workers and the business and makes it responsive and creative in growing and improving the business. While the co-operative model brings many benefits, it also presents some unique challenges. We ourselves have no previous experience of a working in a cooperative model, and this has therefore necessitated lots of learning along the way. The usual advisory organisations such as business gateway also know little about cooperatives and we have found it difficult to get advice from them with regard to the management of the democratic structure.
SOLUTION: We have found that there are organisations out there to advise co-operatives and we have drawn on their resources to educate ourselves. They helped us to create a strong foundation in a form of a written constitution that we have all agreed on and have provided guidance in the committee procedures which we have been applying with success. We will also have a clear induction plan for all employees who will want to become members, to make expectations and responsibilities of membership clear. Going forward, we will continue to educate ourselves and continue to make sure we are operating under the principles of the co-operative model.
Finally, we think crowdfunding is a secure way of raising funds without having to service a bank loan when starting up. We hope our perk structure will help to create loyal customers who will rightly feel a sense of ownership and care for Bonobo, just like we do!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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