Steve Cumper comes out on top with a successful country cafe

case studies

There's something special about country cafes. With the unique personality and home-made freshness that only a small business can provide, Red Velvet Lounge welcomes you from first sight.

Nestled into the lush countryside of Cygnet, around 55 km from Hobart, The Red Velvet Lounge sits snugly between the picturesque mountain ranges and quiet streets of the small town. Famous for its cakes, biscuits, and sourdough bread, The Red Velvet Lounge is famous among locals and visitors alike - which, considering its recent turn of events, is nothing short of remarkable.

In November of 2014, the historic 100-year old building tragically caught fire, and was burnt to the ground. Believed to have started in the kitchen and spreading quickly to their famous dining area, both investigators and insurance companies couldn't offer much further explanation for the fire than this: it was just damn unlucky.

Owner Steve Cumper was devastated. The kitchen - the heart of his iconic restaurant and cafe - was destroyed. His dining area was unusable. He was losing money by the day as his bills ticked over. But worst of all, his insurance policy didn't even come close to covering the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage the fire had caused.

"At this point, I thought the fire was a sign to pull up stumps," says Steve, a hospitality veteran of over 30 years. "But we had such an overwhelming response from the broader community who organised a fundraiser."

"Attending were a whole lot of industry people and organisations who banded together to raise $35,000. And that really steeled our resolve to get up and keep trying."

Among the people to hoist Steve and his staff back into business was Silver Chef. Already a loyal customer of the Silver Chef brand, the equipment lost in the fire had only just been paid off for full ownership by Steve a short time earlier. "I contacted Silver Chef," remembers Steve, "with a 'Wish List' and a 'Reality List'. Luckily, they were able to help me with both." Indeed, the existing relationship between Silver Chef and Steve meant that replacing his kitchen was as easy as a phone call.

To preserve his cash flow, Mr Cumper decided to rent nearly $90,000 worth of kitchen equipment and stainless steel benches through Silver Chef, rather than buying it outright.

"I was working to an incredibly tight budget and didn't want to tie up what cash I did have in expensive kitchen equipment," says Mr Cumper, whose wages bill alone is about $300,000 a year.

"The ability to get the equipment you want immediately without having to outlay a shed-load of cash is very attractive; renting the equipment off balance sheet was a no-brainer."

Silver Chef's willingness to fund new and used equipment also helped The Red Velvet Lounge keep its costs down. With an incredible $75,000 loan from the government, Steve had only a small gap to cover when it came to setting up a new and renovated kitchen.

On Saturday evenings, The Red Velvet Lounge transformed from a cafe into a fully-fledged restaurant, and the kitchen reflected this versatility. Almost everything prior to the fire was from brand 'Simply Stainless' - four work benches, dishwasher, sink benches and gantry.

Following the fire, The Red Velvet Lounge saw a whole new kitchen installed. The combination of new and second hand equipment now included exciting new options like a Robot Coupe ice cream machine and Henkleman vac packer. In addition to restocking the essentials, Steve also chose to add in a new Expobar coffee machine and versatile Mecnosud spiral mixer. His new kitchen was complete.

Steve Cumper is no stranger to the perils of the hospitality industry. Starting out at the tender age of 16, Steve overcame many hurdles to win the successful name he currently has in the Australian food and beverage industry. He was the winner of Country Style magazine's first ever National Country Chef of the Year award, and the iconic The Red Velvet Lounge was even included in a 2014 issue of the Wall Street Journal.

When asked what 'Plan B' was if the cafe could not be rebuilt, Steve laughs.

"There was no Plan B. I've got very strong views, and I don't think I could work for anyone else. I have extremely high standards, and I'm not prepared to compromise those things."

He cheekily adds, "The only real back up plan was for me to go back to male modelling."

And it was this determination and passion for his work that has seen Steve rise from strength to strength since the reopening of The Red Velvet Lounge earlier this year.

One cannot help but marvel at the highly responsive and innovative era businesses are lucky enough to operate in these days. It was not long ago that losing your business meant, well, losing your business. To watch your building burn to the ground spelt the end of the road for many, as raising the cash to rebuild would have taken years.

In 2015, however, response time is the basis on which so many companies are growing their offering. Silver Chef knows that every moment spent waiting is an opportunity lost, a customer not served, and another cost incurred. So it is our goal to allow our clients to have their business operating as best it can, as soon as it can.

Steve Cumper agrees. "The nature of lending money has changed over the years. Quite frankly, people could not have found the spaces in between established commercial markets to find, purchase and create a new market." As Steve has shown, by having the right equipment, at the right time, everyone is a contender - regardless of difficult circumstances.

So, we asked - how would you describe the new and improved Red Velvet Lounge? Steve says the refurbishment has allowed him to replace an "idiosyncratic space that had patinas of interest layered over the years" with a more appealing one. "It's a beautiful space—it's lofty, airy, light, warm and the same bonhomie we were noted for is still in the bricks—that's going nowhere." Also unchanged will be the "frocked-up yet unpretentious" country food for which The Red Velvet Lounge is famous, including its Nanna-style cakes—"think upside down quince cake with custard". Sounds very, very inviting to us.

The Red Velvet Lounge

24 Mary Street,

Cygnet TAS

03 6295 0466 or 0428 629 555

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