Janette Sheppard would be the first to agree that an industrial estate on the outskirts of a town in a semi-rural area is not the ideal location for a cafe.
But then, The Painting Cafe is not just a cafe.
Having spent 16 years as a social worker in the children and families department, Janette, from historic Linlithgow in West Lothian, decided it was time for a change. So she asked her sister, Carol if she’d like to open a cafe with her.
“Don’t most people think they’d like to own a cafe?” asks Janette. (And, on reflection, she’s probably right.)
She continues: “Linlithgow is a real tourist magnet so a cafe on the historic high street seemed the obvious place. But we simply couldn’t afford the rents. And by that time I’d realised I would quickly get bored with running just a cafe.
“In the interim, we’d seen one of those “paint your own pottery” places that include a cafe and a soft play area for toddlers. I’d always been a kind of ‘crafty’ person so when we heard there was a franchise company offering just that kind of concept, we decided to go for it.”
Although the company provided a start-up package and support, it was up to Janette and her sister (who both had zero business experience) to find premises, negotiate the rent, fit out the space and get the business up and running (not to mention raising the cash).
“Finding the right place was crucial” she says. “And while the idea of opening a cafe on an industrial estate sounds crazy, our target audience was going to be, not tourists looking for a quaint spot to have a coffee and a slice of cake, but mums and dads looking for a reasonably priced alternative to a sports activity or the cinema.
“So plenty of free parking right on the doorstep was a must. As was lots of space for the pottery painting, the kids parties, the cafe and the soft play area.”
The unit they found on a small industrial estate a few miles outside the town was just a shell when they took it on. The landlord let them have the first month rent free which gave Janette and her sister four weeks to transform the premises before they had to get their first customers through the door.
That was 12 years ago and in that time, The Painting Cafe (its trading name since becoming independent from the franchise 7 years ago) has evolved into something of a community crafts hub with Janette and local experts holding crochet, fused glass, flower arranging, paper patchwork and upholstery sessions there. Janette is also in demand to run craft activities for a variety of groups outwith the cafe premises.
She says: “One of the great pleasures of running this business, and one that I could never have anticipated, is seeing people – adults and children – who come through the door saying they are “not good at art”, create something they’re really pleased with.”