Podcast Episode 2: Hustle and Co – friends for 3 decades and the time is right to open a cafe

Filed in Podcast  /  November 24, 2022 /

Jo and Nicki are the women behind Hustle and Co cafe in Harrogate. With almost 3 decades of friendship behind them, a dream they planned years earlier when new mums, has finally come to fruition.

Their humour, easyness with each other, and deep friendship is so evident throughout this conversation. I loved the realism of what they say on building a business and using eachothers strengths; the importance of having support outside of the friendship also; and adore that it is a story of how, just because something isn’t right, right now – this does not mean it will never be right!

Lot’s of food for thought and inspiration here! This is the link to listen: https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/zEnXrvuwdvb

The episode was recorded in early 2021. And as I come now to add the transcription, Jo and Nicki have now sold the business. But I will still link to that instagram account – so you can scroll back and see them!

Instagram: www.instagram.com/jespersbarandkitchen_

The Episode Transcribed

Susannah: Hello. Welcome to episode two of Friend Business, the podcast. It’s been a beautiful past few days here in the UK. It’s been warm and sunny and it’s been so lovely to see people out and about; in summery clothing and enjoying company and the good weather.

So this week’s conversation is with Nikki and Joe, who have opened Hustle and Co, which is a cafe in Harrogate, which is a beautiful spa town in the north of England. I’m so looking forward to sharing their story here. Because they’ve been friends for almost three decades; had looked into opening a cafe together many years ago. And now years later, it has come into fruition. And Hustle and Co is a really vibrant, stylish cafe with the community being at the heart of their business and in the “co” of their name.

Their menu is really innovative and fabulous, with over half being vegan or vegetarian options; many gluten free options. I could actually just sit and read out their entire menu to you, but a few things that grab my eye are like buttermilk and parmesan crumb chicken; falafel and halloumi; red velvet pancakes and goat’s cheese. It just is lovely.

And today we talk about being friends for many years, starting a hospitality business when coming from different career backgrounds, how they opened in the middle of multiple lockdowns, moved back from Spain to England and are now living and working together.

I do have a confession that my audio during the interview was not great at all, unfortunately, so I’ve cut me out of the episode.

But I think you’ll find a conversation that flows beautifully, telling their story and their experiences and advice. Actually, it’s probably even better without me there. So I really hope you enjoy this. And over to Nicki and Jo.

Jo: Okay, so I’m Jo. I’ve moved over from Spain to do this venture with my best friend Nick. So I’ve been here since August when we knew we would be able to move forward with the venture and our feet just haven’t touched the ground since August 2020.

Nikki: Nikki Routledge, married mum of two. Turned 50 a couple of years ago and had a great life. Very easy, privileged life, until I decided to just try my hand at this and drag my best friend into it as well. So feeling very guilty for that, but should be fine when we get over the first hurdles.

Jo: I lived in Southport, in the Northwest. Nick lived this end. And my ex husband and Nick’s husband Mike were the best of friends. And Mike rocked up with his new girlfriend Nick. And I’m thinking, what is this whirlwind of a woman? Girl, really. Girl, then. And I was heavily pregnant with my first daughter.

Nikki: Yeah – the youngest out of all of you, I might add.

Jo: Yeah, absolutely. My husband was ten years older than me and Mike was older than Nick.

Nikki: My husband had been married before and Jo had the privilege, or the unfortunate problem of knowing the previous ex wife. So I think she had a benchmark.

Jo: Yeah. So I said to Mike, what have you done? What have you done? She whirls in. She’s dressed immaculately from head to toe in designer gear. And you knew when she walked in the room and I’m thinking, I’m nine months pregnant. Really? Do I need to get involved in this? And then I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened.

Nikki: You quite liked me.

Jo: She grew on me. Couldn’t help but like her. And, yeah, it was just the start of a journey that was to become a real lifelong friendship.

Nikki: 27 / 28 years. Yeah, nearly three decades. But we couldn’t be more different on paper. The friendship possibly shouldn’t work when you analyze the two people on paper. But it so does.

Jo: 100 miles an hour. I quickly named her 100% Nicki, because everything she does has got to be belt and braces. I’s doted T’s crossed. I’m much more relaxed. Relaxed. Go with the flow, you know, nothing’s too much trouble, we’ll get over it, we won’t stress along the way. And Nick is just like 100 miles an hour. But I think our values have always been the same. It’s just maybe our approach to our lives has been somewhat different.

Nickki: The hare and the tortoise, really?

Jo: Yeah. That’s good.

Nickki: And our relationship is quite sister like, but we are very different, as Jo says, though, the sort of values and the moral compass.

Jo: And it’s strange. We never lived in the same town until August last year, until I moved to Harroage and we lived here. We just used to have four hour conversations on the phone, didn’t we?

Nickki: Yeah, many many times during the week. Yeah, we’ve always spoken a lot. And it’s quite bizarre because at one stage into our marriages and our motherhood, we decided, both separately, nothing to do with each other, but for our own reasons, for Jo and her family to move to Spain to live full time; and for my husband and my boys to live in Spain also. We lived in different parts of Spain. We lived there for eight years, Joe for 14, and just come back now. So, yeah, that was quite freaky that we both decided to do that as well.

Jo: Well, I’ve always worked right through my three daughters and the pregnancies, and I’ve always been sales. I was working for BT when we met. Sales manager and then an area manager. And then I left BT to work in my husband’s business, which was car sales. And then when we moved across to Spain, I did real estate sales and timeshare sales or sales sales, right the way through.

Nickki: I left school not knowing what I wanted to do. I had a business over in Ilkley, North Yorkshire. And that was very much a hobby business or lifestyle business, where if I made a sale, I’d dine out at Betty’s on the proceeds and have a great time. And then I came to the end of the lease of that retail outlet and decided I maybe needed to get a proper job. So, yes, I started working and it was in sales. And my family would always say I could sell ice to Eskimos. Mine was field sales. I was all about the power dressing with the shoulder pads and the car that I drove and the title that I had, and it was very much chasing the deal and I loved it and was big into the sales culture. In my day, we used to call it repping. And we had a great, great time. It mostly involved travelling from A to B in the country, north to south. I had a really big area and had a great, great time along the way. So, yes, sales has always been my background.

Yes, so, when Jo mentioned that she went to work in her husband’s business, that was due to a redundancy, wasn’t it, in BT? And that was in an area, a little suburb in Southport. And it was a beautiful building that they owned, but adjacent to the building was a sandwich shop come sort of little tea shop. The rent came available and Jo had said, let’s do it together. But by that stage, me and my family were living about 40 minutes away in the Ribble Valley, and Jo’s youngest daughter was a good nine months ahead of my youngest son. My youngest son was still a babe in arms, and I really wanted to do it. It just wasn’t logistically practical to do that journey with such a small second child.

And my husband works full time as well, so I couldn’t really make it work. And for that reason, we were always quite sad weren’t we. We had the name,

Jo: You had the detail on the bags and the bows, how you werere going to tie the takeaway bags. That’s the detail I’m talking about.

Nickki: Anally I visualized everything. So it was sad that we couldn’t do it, but it just wasn’t going to work with our family. And we always said, we said, one day, one day. And then this came about purely by a romantic notion, chance conversation. And I’d like to say quickly snowballed, but actually it went at a snail’s pace for ever such a long time. But yeah, here we are. So we made it in the end over 20 years later. We made it.

Always been prolific foodies haven’t we? We do definitely show our love for people on a plate. Definitely. If you, aside from the cafe, wherever to be hosted at our house, it would always involve lots of food, good food, food cooked from scratch, inventive food. And that’s how we are as mums and people. So, yes, what you see on our menu is all Joe and I behind it. But the division of labor is probably quite different.

Jo: Yeah, we’ve started to form our roles now, haven’t we? Clear definite roles where Nick is clearly very creative and she’s the magic behind the branding. The food we do together. But the sort of sweeping up and making sure everythings together comes down to me. She flies ahead and I just bring up the rear, making sure that it sort of comes together.

Nicki: Cinderella

Jo: She keeps me downstairs most of the time.

Nicki; Not at all. Not at all. Jo’s far better with recruitment and payroll and staff than I ever could be. I stay away from that. I stick to the sales and marketing. And we come together at the menu. I think it’s really important to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And as I said, our friendship, on paper, if you took an orbital view, would look quite unlikely because we are so polar opposite. But I think when you analyze my strengths and my weaknesses, the latter are complemented by Jo. And her strengths are in so many other areas that I A: don’t like to operate in and B: not very good at operating in either. So it’s fortunate that we come together harmoniously. It works.

Jo: I think I knew what I was taking on…. No, nothing really surprises me and I hope nothing surprises you. The “move move move Jo Get out of the way.” To achieve the bottom of the stairs 10 seconds quicker than me is more than a little frustrating. Beep beep beep…gets on my nerves a little, but apart from that, no, it’s all as expected.

Nicki: I think do have to understand that Jo came over from a different country to do something that you….. literally your feet didn’t touch the ground when you arrived did they? So we’ve gone 1000 miles an hour. Poor Jo hasn’t even had a minute to try and even find another place to live. So Jo’s been living at our family home. So not only did we work together 24/7, we lived together 24/7 as well. And that I think, we actually do very well. Yes, it’s tested us at times.

I think maybe due to the frustration of Jo and I not operating in a retail hospitality environment before And our names being above the door and therefore it’s our brand, our personality, is our everything. That means if we’re not very good at our jobs, we take it really personally because we’re letting us down and we’re letting our brand down. But of course you do have to walk before you can run. And we were never going to be good..you know, we’re learning every day, we’re getting better and stronger as individuals every day. I think it’s quite a romantic notion to say that you’re a female founded owner and operator. The true sense is, that you have to really learn your craft and that takes time. And hopefully you’re humble enough to get people on board with you. That accept you’re maybe not as good when you start as where you should be. We’re getting there. So we look back quite a lot, don’t we? We don’t forensically analyze but we post-mortem quite a bit.

Jo: and how would this ever, ever happen again? Stop, start, stop, start all of the time. From stop to 21 days of trading; to three and a half months; and then to start it all over again. A blessing or a curse remains a question. But we like to think that it was a blessing that we could regroup and think about what we were going to do when we were going to reopen again.

But it’s just the most bizarre set of circumstances, both personally, that I’ve moved over, I’m living with Nick, we’re all locked up together and then we started a business, which we can’t continue with.

So, yes, the challenges have definitely been there, that’s for sure. And we haven’t created any history yet. So when we’re looking at stock levels, when we’re looking at how much coffee we sell… We were doing it today – and we had 21 days in December. That was Christmas, that was people off work, that was isolation, and then we shut and then we started again. But we’re still not fully open. We’ve only got our outside areas. So how can you quantify anything and create a history with only that amount of days trading? But that’s all to come, and that’s what Nick refers to. We’re learning every day and just continuing continuous improvement.

Nicki: I think the important thing is – what I’ve taken from everything so far, is that hospitality is a little bit like, I imagine, a theatre production. And it’s about putting on a show. And I think I was always going to be the one that was reasonably good at that because I could smile and know that people are furiously treading water below the scenes. But nevertheless, the important thing is to let everyone know it’s calm at the top of the surface. It’s a mill pond up there. Irrelevant of what’s happening down below. And I think we’ve done that quite well. And on occasions where there’s been cracks, we’ve just blamed it on the menopause, really, and got away with it, which I think is really helpful.

Jo: I think you’ve just got to be able to compromise. There’s so many things that I do that Nick would rather me not do, or rather me be better at or quicker or whatever, but she compromises with me that I go at my pace and I certainly compromise that she charges ahead. There were times in the early days where Nick would be still up at 03:00 a.m. Working away, doing something. I would be comatose by the side of her. But I didn’t want to let her down. I wanted to stay by her side and do that. But, I still do it, don’t I?

Nicki: Yes, you do. But I don’t expect you to

Jo: No, she doesn’t expect me to do it. And sometimes I can’t carry on at that pace and I can’t carry on to those levels. So, we don’t fall out often and if we do fall out, we always resolve it. We certainly resolve it very quickly, because the friendship is greater than anything, any business ever. So it’s got to be a compromise.

Nicki: Yeah, I think as well. You’re actually no longer in your marriage, Jo, are you? But I am still in mine. I have a very, very tolerant and patient husband and that really helps as well because Jo has her daughters that she can sort of offload to and that’s really important. And I have my husband because there’s got to be niggles. And whilst I would, in the main say my niggles to Joe directly – when you see how absolutely worn out and tired and hard work I mean, such hard work being done by your best friend and she is at your side, and she wants it to succeed the way that you do. She’s totally on your path. But yet she can’t take any more criticism or she can’t take anything else going wrong and things like that. You’ve got to know when to stop dumping on your partner and maybe take it outside and just have a bleat with whoever is on your side that can be a part of your release valve. I think that’s really important. And you can sort of have a little moan and then come back to it and tomorrow is another day and you go again.

I think our friendship is definitely stronger – than this business means to us. We will be fine. But it does test friendships. It does test all kinds of relationships around you. I think hospitality in particular is one of the most testing businesses. Whether it’s a husband and wife team or two best friends or whoever it is. Just because of the intricacies. If it’s going to be a table top business that two best friends go into, and it’s maybe, I don’t know, B to B or B to C. And you’ve got a good business case and you’ve done your marketing. And things like that, you can maybe ease into it a lot more gradually than we have been able to. Ours has been the Big Bang approach. It’s completely all or nothing. It’s overtaken our lives at 1000 miles an hour and we cannot put the brakes on this.

Jo: Nor do we want to.

Nicki: Nor do we want to, of course not. So this kind of business startup that we’ve decided to do is probably a lot more challenging than some of the others that best friends could decide to do. But for instance, yesterday Jo’s eldest daughter, who doesn’t live terribly close by, she came over. And Jo was able to sit in our courtyard, which is exceptionally pretty and you may have seen it on Instagram. And have some sort of tapas lunch plates, leisurely with some wine with your middle daughter. And I think that was the time that you soaked up.

Jo: Yeah, that was a real moment of acheivement truth, to sit there and to look around and have your daughter’s proud of you. It was really something.

Nicki: So I don’t think we need to sit there together and say cheers to us. We do it in different ways. I’ve been fortunate enough to manage to get some airtime in the newspapers as we were opening back up from the 12 April. And that was through some contacts of mine, wasn’t it? And it was a bit Nicki says, because the interview was not us. And that was my proud moment. And I was thinking, well, we must be doing something right to be able to get that airtime. So there are proud moments. Sadly, we’re a little bit too shattered to stand back and smell the roses too much. Hopefully that will change in the future. But we’ve certainly had some moments, and this being one of them, where you’ve approached us to do this and just talk about our story, you know, we must be doing something right, and that’s nice.

Jo: But we’ve got an exciting new chef that’s on board, so hopefully taking us in a new direction, but give us a few weeks on that. Let’s just get open.. and our food is great anyway. We’ve got a fantastic head chef, but our new chef might bring and she’s female and may bring a new dimension in the next few weeks. Our team is still forming and that’s really exciting. We had a wonderful team in December who all, bar one for various reasons, came back to us, and now the team is growing and it’s really cohesive, isn’t it?

Nicki: It is. We’re absolutely on a journey. I think I had very clear directions about the brand and Hustle and Co and it’s certainly not anything that we want to stop at one. I have always been an overly ambitious person. As I say, we won’t run before we can walk. We’ve got a lot of learning to do, but it’s just the start for Hustle and Co.

And Co in the branding very much stands for the community element. And I really think we’re fostering those communities now in the shape of the fitness community, the mummy community, the older adult community, at certain times of the day, certain days of the week, and they swing by. There’s just lots of different pockets of social groups and it’s wonderful to welcome them as guests to Hustle and Co. And I think it’s so unique and so special, it just simply could not stop at being one venture, one branch. It has to have its place in a few other high streets or little towns and things. And so that’s clearly a direction that we are going to be working towards. But also just curating really lovely things. Whether or not it’s a craft gin, which is quite by chance unheard of at the time, which we collaborate with. You know, we don’t have a shelf on the bar that has a plethora of the usual suspects that you would imagine. No, we hand pick a special one, don’t we? Curate it. We like to storytell and the same can be said of our coffee. And we have a lot that we like to promote through our social media and through our menu and it just won’t stop. I think hustle and co – and the word hustle with what it can mean, you know, in smiles and coffee and hustling is very much our culture and we can see now we’re starting to foster that culture.

Susannah: I hope you find this episode so inspiring and encouraging. Their passion for the industry, their long standing, deep friendship and their wisdom and realness about work and friendship. I’m so grateful for their time and openness during this conversation and I know they would absolutely love to hear from you.