Come at 4.30, she had said, we’ll be finishing off then and Millie can join us after school. I’m a bit early and Sophie is still clearing up after the last of her coffee shop customers.
“Would you like a drink and something to eat?” she asks, cleaning the nozzles on the huge coffee-making machine behind the counter.
“You know, I haven’t had a cream tea the whole time I’ve been in Devon. Would that be okay, and just with a small Americano?” Millie and Me is building a reputation for the best coffee in Brixham.
After pulling on blue plastic gloves she takes a catering tub of strawberry jam from one of her fridges. “Some people put the cream on first,” she says, “but I prefer the jam and then the cream.”
Once we are sat down at one of the small tables in the large window I ask Sophie how this collaboration with her 15-year-old daughter began.
She tells me that she has always been interested in catering and gets a buzz from organising themed events, preparing all the food and seeing that everything runs smoothly. “I’ve organised friends’ weddings and that sort of thing but have never charged for doing it. It’s been my passion.”
For the whole of her professional career, until now, Sophie has worked in health and social care. She’d been a runaways’ worker for a children’s charity and then – when she needed to be around more for Millie – she’d cut her hours and taken a part-time job as a scheme manager in sheltered housing scheme. “Working with older people instead of young people,” she says, “but using all the same skills!”
“This time last year we organised a fundraising event,” she explains, getting back to the catering business. “We prepared a massive hot and cold buffet for over 100 people, managed all the lighting and live music. Everything.”
It seems the whole family was involved. Sophie’s husband James, local policeman by day, got stuck in, fetching and carrying; Millie helped with the food preparation (it was all done from their own kitchen at home) and 17-year-old Harry (last night’s compere), was master of ceremonies. “It was a brilliant evening,” says Sophie, “really good.”
With both their children involved with YES and both she and James trustees on the YES board – their professional backgrounds no doubt most valuable to a charity working with marginalised young people – Sophie recalls that she was aware of the Neighbourhood Challange but hadn’t considered the potential it offered.
“It needed Angela to point it out,” she says. “She had seen what we’d done at the fundraiser; she knew that Millie lacked confidence. She also knew that Millie was a brilliant baker and she thought if we could set up a catering business together then maybe Millie would grow in confidence and self-belief if she saw us achieving something together. That, really, was the seed.”
I’m about to ask about Millie when Sophie’s phone rings. It’s the same tone that I use on my own phone for the alarm and it makes me jump.
“Excuse me,” she says, leaving the table. “Hello.”
It’s Millie. It seems she’s not feeling great and unable to make it. Fair enough.
The Neighbourhood Challenge, and Angela’s encouragement, was the catalyst that prompted Sophie and her family to take a big risk. The biggest risk, possibly, of any of the Challenge participants.
“Millie and I went to Outset, the business training people, on Monday nights where we did forecasting and business planning. That was fantastic, so inspiring.
“At home I’ve never had any interest in the household finances. I would never know how much our water costs, or how much we pay for electricity. James handles everything and I’ve always been quite happy with that.
“At Outset I had an hour and a half’s training on how to write a business plan and a financial forecast. It took me about a week to do ours, but I did it.” She’s animated now, proud of her achievements. “I look after all our spreadsheets and I’m responsible for everything.”
“How did you come to find this place? Was it already a coffee shop?”
“The week after we started our business training we saw this in the local paper. We couldn’t have afforded to take on the lease of an existing coffee shop but this had been offices for the Herald Express and, if we could get the ‘change of use’ [formal agreement from the council’s planning office], I knew we could convert it for next to nothing.”
They were encouraged to do market research by the business training agency and so, Sophie says, everyone was again roped in. “We sat in different cafés around Brixham for an hour at a time: in the mornings, in the afternoons, and in the evenings. We sat there on weekdays, we sat there at weekends and we counted how many people they served in that hour to give us an idea of what we might expect. Then we slashed the numbers because we wanted to be as pessimistic as possible.”
More from the café on Friday at 2pm.