Situated in the heart of Merton Abbey Mills, Willow Bough Tea Rooms is the realised dream of Sweet Clare…
Clare wanted to open a tea rooms that was influenced by the arts and crafts movement and reflected the same values as the movement. Using the finest ingredients, you can taste the love that goes into all of our homemade cakes and meals – all of which are freshly prepared on the premises.
We’ve been able to learn more from this inspiring female etrepreneur as she helps us to understand more about the makings of her wonderful business:
- Who/ What inspired you to start your own business?
I was always the person who baked for friends, took a cake into the office, hosted the parties… and I know the importance of taking time to slow down and enjoy good conversation with a friend over a nice pot of tea. I then inherited china tea sets from both grandmothers, and a kenwood chef (which I still use in my shop!) from one grandmother, and I knew when I’d had enough of my 15 year career in PR and marketing that I wanted to open a tea room. I named my business Willow Bough after my favourite William Morris wallpaper, which I have in my dining room at home!
- What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a rare genetic condition that affects my connective tissue and energy levels. This can make everything harder and more painful, especially scone-making – but I still insist on making them by hand because handmade scones are the best! I realised a few years ago that my body isn’t up to working in a shop six days a week, so I’m now really more focused on catering, and opening the shop (which is now based in Merton Abbey Mills) from Thursday to Sunday (out of lockdown). A very big challenge for me during lockdown was that EDS means I have a compromised immune system, so I have spent the last year mostly isolating. So the business has just been me – I’m the one taking orders by email, shopping, baking, delivering – with a little bit of help from my parents who I’ve bubbled with, so a big thank you to them!
- What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
I love the freedom of being my own boss, making my own decisions. Sometimes they’re the wrong decisions but so long as I learn from them I’m happy. I also have a huge sense of pride, and responsibility when catering for someone’s big event. Especially funerals. Those events mean so much to my customers and I want to do the absolute best that I can for them. I think the little things matter – like including a message with an afternoon tea that’s a gift, or asking the family if there’s a favourite cake to remember a loved one with. I also love the creativity – I’m an ideas person and I love being able to collaborate with other businesses, such as Rogue Opera or Bee Creative Art Hub.
- Which product/service have you enjoyed creating the most?
I’ve absolutely loved seeing our afternoon tea boxes take off the way they did this last year! We’ve been doing them since 2017 but this year we really got noticed and I think south west London and Surrey now love afternoon tea as much as I do! I’ve added a ploughman’s box and breakfast box to our range, and now gift baskets full of homemade goodies too. I loved doing the Valentine’s Day afternoon tea and I’m really looking forward to our Mother’s Day afternoon tea!
- How will you be celebrating Mothers Day/International Women’s Day?
I’ll be making and delivering afternoon teas to Mums across south west London and Surrey. I’ll have the cakes baked the day before, so I’ll come into work early and make the sandwiches to go with the scones, lemon and elderflower cupcakes, and rose and raspberry sandwich cake. There’ll also be iced biscuits included for all the Mums. I’m already looking fairly busy so, like last year, my own Mum (and Dad) will probably come and help me with the deliveries, so I will treat them to a takeaway from one of our neighbours at Abbey Mills – Mum’s choice!
- What advice would you like to pass on?
Believe in yourself, and love what you do – your customers really can tell and really do appreciate it! I’m also a firm believer in learning all the time. If something goes right, I learn from it. If it doesn’t go the way I planned, I learn from it. There’s always room for growth.
Culina first birthday party in Merton – event photographs
Facebook – @willowboughtearooms
Instagram – @willowboughtearooms
Twitter – @willowboughcake
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