As a young boy, Robert Wiggins was obsessed with pulling out all of his mum’s pots and pans and cooking for himself. Little wonder then that this very affable young man has ended up running his own eaterie in Coleraine.
Situated in the market beside the railway station in the North Coast town, Wee Jean’s Café is a bustling hive of activity, with locals and visitors alike attracted to the café thanks to its reputation for great fries and snazzy snacks.
Ironically, at school, Robert was more interested in ‘hands-on’ work like construction, but when he enrolled at the Northern Regional College in Ballymoney, he returned to his first love – catering.
“I always knew that I’d end up in catering in some shape or form,” he said.
“Once I’d finished my three-year course in Ballymoney, I got a job as a chef in a hotel and I stayed there for four years until I left. But when I saw this opportunity, I knew I had to take it on.
“Initially I was very nervous. In the hotel that I’d worked in, I’d been very involved in a lot of the add-on work, such as ordering and paperwork, so when I first started with Wee Jean’s Café, I was used to doing a lot of similar work. What really surprised me, however, was the responsibility that I had taken on.
“The most nerve-wracking part of starting the business was the fact that I had to learn all of the bookwork and make sure it was right while ensuring that my customers were happy too. When I was working at the hotel, I didn’t meet the customers. Now I get to meet them and hear their reactions and find out how they felt about the food etc.
“That’s actually my favourite part of having my own business. It’s great actually meeting both the new customers and the regulars, who come in every couple of days. It’s nice to meet them and I now consider a lot of them as friends. The café is great for people to come into and just sit down and have a coffee or tea and a wee chat. It makes people feel at home.”
Robert’s lack of confidence in the financial side of the business led him to sign up for the Exploring Enterprise course run by Enterprise Causeway.
“As I said, I quickly realised I knew nothing about the finance side of a business, so the course was able to educate me about this aspect of the business, but it also provided me with so much more in terms of marketing and advertising.
“The financial skills that I’ve learnt have enabled me to keep my own books and this cuts down the cost of hiring an accountant at this moment in time. For me to be able to keep my books and get it checked by a bookkeeper at the end of the year is a big saving for the business.
“In addition to the educational side of the course, the programme also brought me out of my shell a bit. There were other people in the group and you got to learn about the enterprises that they had set up. We were also able to help each other out, which was great.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Robert wants to encourage others to take that ‘leap of faith’ and go for their business dream.
“If you have always wanted to run your own business, then I would definitely say to do it, because it has really helped me with my café and opened up a lot more opportunities for me.
“It’s a big risk setting up your own business, but if you really want to do it, you can do it. Things will fall into place and, so far, it has worked out for me and I’m loving it. Thankfully, so are my customers.”
The Exploring Enterprise Programme is funded through the Northern Ireland Social Fund 2014-2020, Investment for Jobs and Growth Programme, The Department for the Economy, Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council and Enterprise Northern Ireland.
Do you have a business idea you want to explore? If so, call Robin on 028 7035 6318, email email@example.com or go to enterprisecauseway.co.uk/project/exploring-enterprise-programme for more information.