A flipping brilliant idea: The Pancake House start up story

Quitting a full-time job and starting up a business is always a huge risk but for entrepreneur Simon Haley, it was the icing on the cake. Simon told BQ of his story so far.

Earlier this year, Simon opened up The Pancake Kitchen, a pancake house at the new multi-million pound development at Seaham Harbour in County Durham. “I’d always wanted my own business and had grown increasingly frustrated by a lack of career progression, so I started developing my idea in my last job,” Simon told BQ.

The Harbour location is an unusual one. It was built in the early nineteenth century to transport coal from neighbouring mines. Mining dominated the landscape for almost 150 years, and when the pits finally closed in 1992 the area was severely affected.

Local communities and councils have worked hard on the transformation, and in 2013 the Marina and surrounding area saw significant investment and the Waterside commercial development opened. It now houses the Pancake Kitchen alongside Harbour Yarns, Nicey Icey, the Lookout Cafe and the heritage centre.

So what’s important to the Pancake House, what makes it different to other eateries on the developing Seaham seafront? “We use top quality local suppliers and produce a premium product, with everything we make being made in-house, cooked to order,” he said.

“Whilst there are plenty of cafes in and around Seaham, there is nothing like the Pancake Kitchen.

"We have a niche that is unique and interesting and we’re finding more and more people are buying into the idea that pancakes can be eaten more than once a year.

"So far we have had extremely positive feedback on our social media sites and from customers in-store.”

The Pancake Kitchen is funded by investment from Simon and his family, a move which always makes the stakes feel incredibly high. Before starting up he took on some unpaid work experience which helped him to be confident that his idea was the right one, and that his batter had legs, so to speak.

“The biggest challenge has been staffing and rotas. Recruiting the correct staff for the needs of the business was a challenge. Actually getting positions advertised in the right places was difficult,” Simon says, echoing the story that others in retail businesses share.

So has it been worth it, so far? “[I love] being your own boss, taking on a completely new challenge and being involved and responsible for the start, middle and end of every decision.”

But every silver lining also has a cloud, he says. “Workload... there is a huge amount of work involved in the planning phase alone, before putting anything into practise.

"Then once you have started up, you need to keep on top of the workload, as once you’re behind it can be difficult to catch up.”

There’s no ‘going home’ when it’s your own business, and as Simon is learning, keeping the work-life balance in order is a vital part of keeping your sanity in the world of self employment.

But when it’s your passion and you’ve worked hard to make it happen, as in Simon’s case, then you take the rough with the smooth.

Simon has gentle aspirations of opening further locations in the future, but not getting ahead of himself, his focus right now is on making the Pancake House all that it can be, and teaching his potential customers that there’s a lot more to them than just lemon juice and syrup.