WITH the subject of enterprise enjoying unusual prominence after the furore about The Budget, we hear from a businessman who highlights the support entrepreneurs provide for each other in Scotland.
What is your business called?
Sebastian Kobelt - Chocolatier•Pâtissier
Where is it based?
Linlithgow, West Lothian.
What does it produce?
Handmade Artisan chocolates and Continental- style Pâtisserie – with an emphasis on seasonality, local sourcing and uniqueness.
To whom does it sell?
We're selling our products through our shop as well as supplying hotels and restaurants in the central belt.
Clients include some of Scotland's most luxurious hotels such as Gleneagles and The Balmoral. We sell a broader range of handmade chocolates, Continental Pâtisserie as well as seasonal mini desserts in our shop to the general public. 95 per cent of this range is made by us in our production kitchen.
What is its turnover?
How many employees?
We have currently one full-time member of staff and three part timers that help with the packaging as well as service within the shop. This allows me to remain in the kitchen and work on my range ensuring the highest possible standard.
When was it formed?
I became self-employed in 2011 worked as a consultant for over a year. During this time, I worked with the likes of Cameron House Hotel, Prestonfield House and The Balmoral Hotel.
In 2012, I set up production and started supplying most of the clients that I had formed relationships with through consultancy. This entails mostly providing chocolates on a wholesale basis to accompany their Afternoon Tea offering or as an offering within the rooms.
In 2014, the retail outlet followed on Linlithgow's High Street.
Why did you take the plunge?
I took the plunge because I felt as though I’d experienced everything that my job had to offer – I’d worked in hotels, on cruise ships, alongside esteemed Michelin Star Chefs and worked in a variety of countries.
My 'creative itch' led me to the conclusion that there was a market for what I do and I could make my dream a reality.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
My family comes from the outskirts of Berlin and my grandfather used to run a very busy bakery in the city's Eastern part. It was like magic to me - the noise, the smells. But the reason I became a Pastry Chef was down to nothing but the logic of a child. I liked to sleep late and my grandfather’s bakery would start at 3am. He used to say: "you're not going to make a good baker! You enjoy sleeping too much. Why don't you become a Pastry Chef, they start at 5am." ...and so the idea was planted in my head at the age of six. Now, I can look back and know I proved to my grandfather that I could do it!
I left Germany in 2000 to work on a cruise ship and travelled for about six years before coming to Scotland and felt it was time to slow down a little. I didn't fancy going back to Germany as I was always interested in languages and loved Scotland so much that I decided to make it my permanent home.
I was headhunted to work at RBS Gogarburn as Head Pastry Chef for the Executives. Just before the banking crisis hit, I took up an offer to work as Head Pastry Chef at Tom Kitchin's eponymous restaurant in Leith and stayed on to open sister restaurant, Castle Terrace in 2010.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
I spend a lot of time number crunching. I did it in manageable steps which has proved to work. I started with consultancy work where there was no funding required. Then as I had saved up just enough money, I set up production in a small industrial unit and started supplying the trade. Again, two years later with the help of a small business loan I opened my shop on Linlithgow's High Street. The advantage of this approach is that it leaves me pretty much debt free.
What was your biggest break?
In personal terms, competing and winning the German Chocolate Masters in 2007 when I was a finalist in the World Chocolate Masters. This has set the tone and has given me a good reputation within the industry. In business terms, it’s been such an achievement to open my shop and believing that I can do it.
What was your worst moment?
It’s got to be having to turn wholesale customers away during busy periods. The downside in manufacturing my own products, with a short shelf life, is that during busy periods such as Christmas it is difficult to keep up with demand.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
I enjoy that every day is different with its own little challenges. I like the fact I can make my own decisions without having to knock on someone's door. It’s also great to be able to be as creative as I like.
What do you least enjoy?
Not having enough time at the moment to be more organised when it comes to planning ahead (it must be the German genes!).
What is your biggest bugbear?
Paperwork... I'm a do-er.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
To open a café or a dessert bar which will feature my restaurant-style sweet tasting menu being served on a daily basis.
What are your top priorities?
Quality; consistency; training/development; satisfied customers; staying financially viable.
What single thing would most help?
A reduction in business rates. Increases in business rates and minimum wages put extreme financial pressure on small businesses in Scotland.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?
To simplify/ clarify the VAT system for food. It is very confusing for a small business owner to know or find out what to charge in VAT, especially if it is a dessert product.
The Government needs to put more focus on training and nurturing the next generation.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?
There are a lot of people and businesses’ out there that are happy to help small start-ups with invaluable advice. They just want young businesses to succeed and know that a little help goes a long way. It was so useful for me in the early stages and now I'm finding myself in the position to help start-ups too.
How do you relax?
Cooking at home... maybe with a glass of wine or two!
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