Tony Singh serves up a refreshing business idea

Caffe Venetia has brought a little bit of Venice to Huddersfield and a change in career for owner Tony Singh

Tony Singh, Caffe Venecia on Market Street in Huddersfield.

Former electrician Tony Singh is sparking interest with a new business venture.

And it’s all been achieved with a little help from his friends!

After a career that included working for Huddersfield firms David Brown, Hopkinsons and Thomas Broadbent, Tony chose a very different route when it came to starting his own business.

“My partner Sharon arranged a surprise trip to Venice for my 50th birthday,” he says. “I fell in love with the place and particularly the coffee culture.

“At the time, I had just lost my job following a back injury and I thought that I could bring a little bit of Venice to Huddersfield along with the coffee culture.”

Now he is the proud owner of Caffe Venecia at Market Street in Huddersfield.

The premises, formerly a furniture shop, have been completely refurbished to include murals of Venetian canal scenes, comfortable leather armchairs and bar seats as well as a counter with decor designed to resemble the curves of the Italian city’s famous gondolas. It also serves paninis, salad and cakes to complement its range of coffees and teas.

Funding for the venture, which opened only last November, has come from a NatWest bank loan and a £20,000 Business Enterprise Fund loan organised through Bradford Chamber of Commerce.

Tony was also given a mentor, Julie Micklethwaite, who continues to comes in once a month to see how Tony’s venture is progressing.

“She has been central to my success,” says Tony. He’s also grateful to the support provided by NatWest’s Ian Court, who has been enthusiastic in his backing.

Tony’s electrical skills came in to play in fitting out the cafe while a neighbour, Stewart Tuner, kindly agreed to draw up designs for the cafe’s distinctive look.

During his enforced unemployment, Tony took a four-day barista course at Kiklees College along with a food hygiene course and carried out “lots and lots” of research into the coffee business – before drawing £7,500 on his credit card and pitching his business idea to NatWest.

Tony was born in India, but came to England at the age of four. He lived in Newsome, but was bussed along with a number of other Asian children to Almondbury Junior School, which would otherwise have had no Asian pupils.

“I think the idea was to integrate us into the community,” he says.

On leaving Newsome High School, Tony became an apprentice electrician working at Standard Fireworks, where he developed a talent for servicing machinery.

His career them took him to Thomas Broadbent, Hopkinsons and David Brown before a switch to the petrochemical industry and a job at Allied Colloids in Bradford.

His last job was with Kirklees Council before a back injury and subsequent operation put paid to his career.

He says: “I had always fancied opening a bar or coffee shop, but I had no funding.

“The little money I had was all for paying the bills. I was living off my unemployment benefit and decided to borrow £7,500 on a credit card and went to NatWest with a business plan.”

Tony puts his success in getting backing for his venture down to “being well-prepared and looking in the right places”.

He has also forged strong links with his suppliers, Patrick Dooling, of artisan coffee supplier Ue Coffee Company, which has premises at Bradford’s Euroway Trding Estate, and Jeeves & Jericho Teas, based in Oxfordshire. Along with drinking coffee, Tony is a big fan of Earl Grey tea!

Backed by a capable staff, Tony turns his hand to anything that needs doing as the popularity of the cafe increases.

“I make the coffees, serve behind the counter, I clean up and I talk to customers to get feedback. I’m a full-time, hands-on boss, “ he says.

Since the age of 14, Tony competed in martial arts and achieved championship wins in taekwondo.

He says that sport nurtured his competitive spirit and determination to succeed.

But he says: “I don’t have time for hobbies at the moment. Running a business, you find yourself thinking about the business all the time. You have to give it maximum attention, I even find myself answering emails at 2am!”

His diligence is paying off, it seems. Tony rates his biggest breakthrough as the day Caffe Venetia notched up 100-plus customers.

“The word is spreading,” he says, “People like the the ambience and the quality. “

The cafe is also sited in a busy part of the town – close to the bu station and Kirklee Council’s civic centre complex.

Says Tony: “Huddersfield town centre is an excellent place to do business and I feel very positive about the regeneration of the town..

“I want to tap into the energy and cultural diversity of the town, which lends itself to a business such as mine.

At the same time, Tony has further ambitions for the business.

“I am hoping to open in Leeds and Manchester, which could lead on to franchising Caffe Venetia,” he says. “Although we are an independent, we have worked on creating a ‘brand image’.

“At 51, I have realised an ambition, but through my experiences I hope to help other people realise their potential, too.”

Says Tony: “I have had a lot of help from people who have become good friends. And I don’t want to let them down.”

Tony’s personable manner has led to some unlikely associations.

While training to become an instrument engineer, Tony was staying at the Billingham Arms in Middlesbrough where he met David Soul – best-known as one half of TV detective team Starsky and Hutch – who was appearing in a play at the town’s theatre.

Says Tony: “I asked him for his autograph and we got talking and downed a few tequila slammers!”

On another occasion in the 1980s, Tony found himself sitting next to Labour politician Denis Healey on a train to London.

Not backward in coming forward, Tony engaged the former Chancellor of the Exchequer in conversation.

“He was a very astute and interesting person, very knowledgeable,” says Tony. “We sat side by side and tried to put the world to rights!”

Role: Owner

Age: 51

Family: Partner Sharon McGrogan

Car: Mercedes A Class

Holidays: I have travelled to more than 32 countries, including Cuba and Venezuela. The Angel Falls is the most amazing sight I have ever seen

First job: Apprentice at Standard Fireworks

Best thing about the job? Having my own business and being in control of my own destiny. I enjoy meeting an interacting with people

Worst thing about the job? I can’t sleep at night! I’m waking up at 2am to do research and send emails which I didn’t have time to send during the day!

Business tip: Do as much research as you can and take advice from others in the business community – there’s so much out there

Work: Contemporary coffee lounge

Site: Market Street, Huddersfield

Phone: 01484 767930

Email: caffe-venecia@gmail.com

Web: http://www.caffevenecia.com/

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