New Norwich city centre businesses aiming for success

Three new businesses have opened in Norwich city centre in recent weeks to show that it's not all doom and gloom in the market place, despite the tough economic times.

Evening News reporter David Bale visited them, and asked how hard it was to open a new business at present, how they rated their long-term prospects, and how they felt about Mary Portas's plans to save the high street.

The shopping queen says our high streets are dying and has come up with a recipe for action – a combination of cutting red tape, changes to parking regulations and easing of council rents and changes to planning laws.

Matthew Walters and partner Grace Simmonds have opened a new cafe/bar in King Street and called it '42', its address in the street.

The building was previously Cafe Du Commerce and before that, Femis restaurant, but the new business is a cafe during the day and a cocktail bar and Mediterranean restaurant at night.

Mr Walters said: 'I was alerted to the fact that the place was available by its previous owner who I once worked for.

'We were able to get private financing through Grace's family. We did a lot of the work ourselves, painting the walls, etc, and we used a lot of reclaimed wood for the furniture.

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'We were helped by a lot of different people, but we are working very long hours, which you have to be prepared to do.'

Mr Walters said they had taken on the lease for the next seven years.

He added: 'We have worked in the industry for some time and always wanted a place of their own.

'The cafe/cocktail bar different aspects of the business are working well together. We don't have an exact cut-off point when the coffee shop becomes a cocktail bar, as it just evolves. We have people coming in for cocktails and ordering bacon sandwiches for the next morning.'

They said they were quietly confident about the future of their business and praised Mary Portas for sticking up for the high street.

Miss Simmonds said: 'I think it's great what she's doing. It's very important to help small independent businesses survive on the high street.'

Chris Ketley has opened a coffee shop on the ground floor of Clever Dicks hairdressers in All Saints Green, which he also runs.

The ground floor space was previously the hairdresser's reception, and Mr Ketley said it had now been put to better use as a coffee shop.

Mr Ketley said: 'You see a lot of people walk by with their Costa and Starbuck's coffees, so we thought we could open a coffee shop of our own.

'While the salon is busy at the moment, the coffee shop is a little bit slow, but spreading the word is the name of the game.

'While we cannot compete with Starbucks, we can help other businesses in Norfolk. The bar in the coffee shop was custom-made by a company in Long Stratton, and the furniture comes from a Norwich-based firm, for example.'

Mr Ketley said that it was not all doom and gloom in the marketplace.

He added: 'Norwich attracts shoppers and office staff from a wide area. Aviva is still here and John Lewis is spending millions of pounds, so while it may not be the best of times, it's not as bad as it says on the 6pm news every night.'

He did not have much trouble setting up a business, and added: 'I talked to friends, mulled the idea over, and then went for it.

'People are more informed about coffee now and I think they are becoming fed-up with just the big coffee chains, and are willing to help out the small independent traders.

'I was lucky in that I went to two banks and both said they were willing to help me financially, although there was a big 10pc difference on the interest they were going to charge, so my advice would be to shop around.

'I obviously pay the rent on the property anyway as the hairdresser, but if you have got a good business plan and a little bit of finance behind it, you can set up a business.'

Moorish is a falafel bar on Lower Goat Lane run by Ayyub King and wife Samia King in partnership with Sam Finnie, from Finnies Juice Bar next door.

Mr King said: 'This kind of bar seems to do well in London, Amsterdam and Berlin, so we thought we would open the first of its kind in Norwich.

'We opened two months ago and it's been really great, so we are looking forward to the future, and have no plans to close any day soon.'

Falafel bars are also very popular at music festivals, including Glastonbury, and Mr King thinks customers had been waiting for one to open in Norwich.

'A lot of people have never tried it before, but once they do, they come back,' he added.

Falafels are healthy, vegetarian fast food: Lebanese in origin, they're made from chickpeas and are served in pitta.

Mr King also praised the work being done to save independent retailers by shopping queen Mary Portas.

Mr King said: 'I don't know exactly what she's doing but I agree with her calling for changes to parking regulations. It's not fair that shoppers have to pay more money to shop in the city centres while parking is free at many out-of-town shopping centres.'

He did not wish to talk about how he set up the business or how hard it was to get it running.