Jack Daniels Whisky

Spilling the beans

Dominic Ide on how he has achieved success as owner and director of Pallets Tea & Coffee House in Beaulieu, Hampshire.

Pallets is something of a legacy business. “It was my grandmother’s and was a gift shop when she had it – then it was my brother Spencer’s.

Today, I own and run it,” says Dominic Ide. “We didn’t have any funds so we had to magic up a way of putting it together. I found bits and pieces from my brother’s other coffee shop – Mettrick’s in Southampton. Friends donated things and I made furniture out of wooden pallets – hence the name.”

The result is a visually stunning cafe, full of reclaimed and upcycled furniture, in the heart of the New Forest. But it’s Pallets’ beverages that keep the customers coming back.

“The key is to find a product you can really make your own,” says Dominic. “Understand what it is that you want to do, what it is that your customers want and from there, home in on something you can do really, really well. For us, that’s coffee.”

Creatures of caffeinated habit

Dominic has worked with Moon Roast, who hand-roast speciality grade coffee to provide exceptional, sustainable products. What did Dominic look for when it came to flavour? “Eliminating bitterness. It’s been proven time and again that people don’t like bitter coffee. But they don’t want weak coffee, either.

“Our house blend,” continues Dominic, “has smooth, nutty notes to complement all our coffee choices. I wanted it to be proportioned. So there are three levels of flavours – sweet, acidic or sour and then bitter. Then, you add the milk, and this balances it out nicely. You get a lovely chocolatey, nutty, almondy flavoured coffee. Our customers love it.

“I’m biased of course but I really do think we do the best latte – that’s my drink of choice – in Hampshire. We also do guest roasts for different styles of coffee, for the likes of AeroPress or V60s.”

Dominic is mindful, though, not to force new and unusual products on customers unnecessarily. “I’m not a big fan of saying ‘do you want to try our African single origins blend,’ to every person as soon as they walk in the door, because the chances are it doesn’t mean anything to them.

“We’re all sceptical of new things and when it comes to coffee, most of us are creatures of habit. But if you know your customers well, you know the ones who will be receptive to something different.”

“"Understand what it is that you want to do, what it is that your customers want and from there, home in on something you can do really, really well. For us, that’s coffee””

The art of the perfect cup

The personal touch is clearly key for Pallets. Dominic believes that the employees behind an establishment are as important as the product itself.

“Your customers return because of the people who work at your venue. They’re such a crucial ingredient.

“If you’re in the coffee game, you need to be passionate about both people and the product you’re serving. Everyone who comes through that door needs a big smile, and it’s got to feel natural.

They want you to ‘see’ them.”

What, according to Dominic, makes the perfect cup? He is a big fan of coffee art. Jass Goodman, Pallets Manager and Head Barista, he says, is quite the pro. “She can make lions, or a phoenix. It’s very impressive and people love it. But a lot of them don’t know that those patterns contribute to the flavour. You have the white of the milk, which is a flavour itself, then the golden orange loop on the foam, the crema – that’s where the bitterness lies, and the milk counteracts that.”

Of course, it’s not just coffee. “We have a large range of cakes – a lot are from our new venue, The Beaulieu Bakehouse. But we wanted to cover the breakfast, brunch and lunch markets, too, which is why we serve things like paninis and sausage rolls.

“We started out making sandwiches, but the labour side was too much. But you can make paninis ahead and keep them chilled. Then when you toast them, they taste delicious and fresh. They are hugely popular, especially the brie, cranberry and bacon one.”

“£3.7bn Market size, by revenue for, of the Cafes & Coffee Shops industry”
- IBISWorld

How to start up a second venue

Last year, Dominic opened up a second business, The Beaulieu Bakehouse. What advice would he offer to others looking to expand?

“Don’t do it by yourself. I don’t necessarily mean having a business partner but to have a support network – friends, partners, parents. People who can help ground you again.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve gone through, bar becoming a dad. The stress of opening a business while running another is something else. It’s like holding onto sand and it’s much easier if you have people with hands underneath yours who are catching it and putting it back on the top of your pile.

“Hire cracking people. Make it very clear what you expect from them. They’re your foundation, they’ll be holding everything up for you. With them in place, your time is less restricted.

“The biggest problem I’ve found has been dealing with all the unexpected things that crop up every day – machinery breaking, someone off sick. You’re doing everything – and then your mental health starts to suff er.

“Never sacrifice your own wellbeing for a business. Because without you in a happy place, your business won’t be in one, either. At the end of the day, your business is a part of you.”

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