Bill Sewell chuckles as he sums up the past year's business at the Café at All Saints in Hereford: "Absolutely excellent." As its director, he has seen turnover leap from £240,000 to an impressive £290,000 in the year ending February 1999.
Not bad, considering the bank originally forecast a meagre £70,000 of sales for its first year of trading in 1997-98. Although staff costs sit stubbornly just below 40% of turnover and the local market has a keen sense of value for money, the café powers ahead and has even managed to shoehorn another 15 seats in to its gallery area.
Its seasonal business cycle has remained similar to before, but busier. The summer and early autumn were filled with tourists alongside the core market of locals, mothers with children and neighbourhood office workers.
November saw a trailing off of custom. And although media talk of a looming recession did not worry Sewell, local events did. Hereford's C&A clothing store closed, as did its Co-op, casting a cloud over the town's retail scene.
But as Sewell recalls, good news soon outweighed the bad. He says: "For cafés like us, the local economy is far more relevant. The closure of these two city centre stores was quite a blow. But then, by March, a Caffe Uno had opened up 100 yards away. And while that is competition, it's good competition and what this end of Hereford needs."
He also talks of plans by a locally-based Dutch entrepreneur to develop a £1.5m hotel, leisure and retail complex on the banks of the city's River Wye.
A major boost to morale in the café's kitchen, and especially to chef Anthony Gardner, has come with the mention of the café in the current edition of The Good Food Guide. Clear that he is doing something right, Gardner has kept the same best-selling dishes as 12 months ago. They include the mushroom and cheesy mash pie (£5.45) and the asparagus and new potato with rocket, spinach and Tynig cheese shavings (£5.95).
Otherwise, it's the soups and salads that remain daily favourites. Sewell is sure that this is because of sheer taste and the recognition by customers that here is truly fresh and local produce.
"The food has always been consistently good here," he says. "We're now one of very few cafés in Britain to appear in The Good Food Guide. Soup remains our number one big seller and we shift twice as much of that as any other item. It means someone can have a medium-sized meal of hearty soup and big, thick, home-made bread for £2.25. As for the salads, we use locally-grown organic leaves which are picked at 5am and are on people's plates by lunchtime."
Sewell has brought in some minor price increases to the menu because of the organic salad content, but there has been no resistance and the average spend remains at £2.50.
The kitchen's bàte noire has been its coffee. Sewell and others have decided that it is not up to scratch. They are changing the machine, rejigging the kitchen and, in the process, spending £5,000.
"It's been a nightmare, so we're going on a course with Urban Espresso in London," he explains. "They'll take us through the details of growing, storing and grinding. Coffee is a drug, and if you produce it better than anyone else, you're laughing." n