Battle of the Brunches
Chris Loudon and Dougie Humphrey set the standard for Edinburgh’s cafe scene as they prepare for a year of success.
Loudon’s Café and Bakery opened nearly six years ago. A family business that first began as a take-away cake and coffee shop, it has become one of the most well-known café’s in Scotland. Boasting bountiful breakfasts, luscious lunches and an array of decedent desserts all catering to a wide degree of dietary restrictions, it’s little wonder its consistently filled with tourists, bloggers and locals.
As business start-ups go, opening your own café or coffee shop is an entrepreneurial mission. In today’s customer climate of caffeine addicts and ‘foodstagram-mers’, it’s a battle of the brunches in the culinary fight for survival.
And survival, it seems, comes naturally to Chris Loudon and Dougie Humphrey, who earlier this month won City Café of the Year and the Gold Medal in Food for Life from The Scottish Food Awards and Academy. The local legends agreed to sit down and chat about their methods and motivations in cultivating success.
It was Loudon who first opened the doors of Loudon’s to the people of Edinburgh. Having spent a good few years working and managing another popular cafe, Peter’s Yard, the opportunity for a personal venture arose. “Taking certain values that I had learned from Peter’s Yard and combining them with my knowledge and skills, I felt like I could put together a business,” he says. Along with his parents, Loudon had taken a business model that was working well and shaped it to become something more.
Opening first as a takeaway focused establishment catering to business “9-5ers”, Loudon’s had a sizeable and profitable market of customers willing to spend for some of Artisan Roast’s finest coffee. However, like many start-ups and new ventures, problems arose.
“Loudon’s was a busy place,” says Loudon. “We were loss-making for two years. The problem was we were doing counter service and people weren’t keen on having to wait for that.”
On top of this, their dedication to using the best ingredients was eating into profits.
“In terms of ethos, you know, everyone labeling us with tags like homemade and organic…we were doing this and it’s something that works fine in a restaurant where you can charge a lot of money for a dish,” he says.
At the time, Loudon’s was averaging about £6-£7 per head, not nearly enough to make up for the cost of their ingredients.
Teamwork and partnership in business is beneficial in many ways, not least for the range of skills it provides. Enter Dougie Humphrey.
“I’ve got analytical mind but I’m a terrible negotiator,” Loudon says. “When Dougie came on board, he crafted a spreadsheet that costed everything we used and halved our expenditure.”
Humphrey brought his experience from the automotive industry. He viewed Loudon’s like a clock, and worked to ensure that every part moved as efficiently as possible. Things needed to change within the business so that it could keep up with customer demands and market trends. By negotiating costs, overhauling the existing workforce, and implementing table service, Loudon and Humphrey breathed new life into the café.
“Ultimately Chris and I had to make some really, really difficult decisions,” Humphrey says. “You try and make it happen and it doesn’t happen…You just have to keep pushing forward.”
And push they did. Today, Loudon’s enjoys its status as one of the go-to destinations for food, drinks and service in Edinburgh.
Humphrey says that a large part of their effort went into the kitchen – the biggest money-maker in any food establishment. You’ve probably heard of Eggs Benedict – or “Benny” – and Loudon’s has a whole menu page dedicated to them. Thanks to their location on the airport bus route, people from all over come to get a taste of the Hoots Mon or “Cajun Spiced” Benny.
This unique culinary experience has been cultivated and nurtured to meet and exceed expectations. It’s not often you’ll find someone willing to wait outside in the Scottish drizzle with a rumbling stomach, or leave with a friendship formed with the lovely member of staff that served them. This fact is not missed by those most prominent on the Scottish food scene. Popular Edinburgh foodie Vegan Edinburgh had this to say: “If you see a queue on Fountainbridge on a Saturday or Sunday morning, chances are they are waiting to get a table at Loudon’s. This place is a crazy-popular…the quite sizeable dining area is chock-full from around 10am long into the afternoon.”
Emma Wright, a regular customer at Loudons Café and Bakery has seen the business transform significantly in the past year.
“It’s one of my favourite places to go,” she says. “They get everything right. It’s not often that you find a café or restaurant that you will return to religiously, because you know that no matter when you go, or how busy it is, the quality of the food and service standards never diminishes.”
It’s clear that Loudon’s have transformed their business from its loss-making early days. They have queues out the door, rave reviews and now awards to their name. However, always looking for the next challenge, Humphrey says: “People will go away to different places if you don’t continue to deliver.”
And continue to deliver they do, as the future of Loudon’s looks to be bright.
“We are in the process of procuring a property in New Waverley,” Humphrey teases. ‘‘It’s much bigger than this unit, it’s just off the royal mile, centre of hotels, near the station, and there is nothing similar in the area.
“It’s the next logical step for us, I think.”
Listen to the whole interview with Chris and Dougie
To find out more about Loudon’s:
Video Created by Lori Delaney
Images courtesy of Loudons Cafe and Bakery.
Editors Note: Lori Delaney currently works for Loudons as part of their team