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Meet Carlisle’s award-winning entrepreneur

When Alan Simpson looks back on 2017, the highlight will be winning the ‘entrepreneur’ category at the Carlisle Living Awards in September.

It’s a real achievement for someone who has come a long way in a short time.

His catering business, COM-FOR-T STREET EATS, only began trading in 2015 and moved into premises at Atlas Works in Denton Holme, Carlisle, just over a year ago.

Award winnerFrom there he runs a sandwich bar and provides outside catering for weddings, birthday parties, business meetings and other events.

Alan trained as a chef at Carlisle College and worked in the kitchens at Eden Valley Hospice and Rheged, amongst others, before he and his wife Sharon moved to Bedford after she landed a plum job there. When they returned to Cumbria, he decided to take the plunge and start his own business.

He said: “I’d been a chef for 20 years and was finding myself working for head chefs who were younger than me and sometimes doing things the wrong way.

“It got to the point where I thought, ‘I need to do this for myself’.

“The other consideration was that catering is really badly paid. Instead of making everyone else rich, I thought I’d try and do it for me.”

His original idea was to buy a food truck to take to fairs, concerts and events, but he rejected that as too expensive – it would have cost £60,000.

Instead, he began preparing ready meals in his kitchen and delivering them to customers’ homes. From there he moved into outside catering.

Instead of making everyone else rich, I thought I’d try and do it for me.

Alan said: “That side of the business got bigger and bigger, and we soon realised we needed our own premises, prompting the move to Atlas Works.

“I would love to still do the ready meal service but running a busy shop doesn’t leave enough time to prepare, cook and deliver the ready meals.

“My plan is to take on additional staff in 2018 and hope to be able to provide some sort of ready meal service again.”

The sandwich bar’s most popular lines include one-pot comfort food dishes, such as chorizo hash, and, for those with a sweet tooth, giant hobnobs.

Alan added: “We run the sandwich bar six days a week offering breakfast, soup, sandwiches, cakes and lunchtime specials.

“In addition, on average we’re doing one outside catering event each week.

“We’ve done eight weddings, a couple of children’s parties, business meetings, and even a Hallowe’en party for 300 people on an island in Derwent Water, which was quite a logistical challenge.

“And we’ve had a lot more enquiries since winning the Carlisle Living award.”

Alan signed up for the Business Start-Up Support (BSUS) programme delivered by the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.

Alan SimpsonHe said: “My Growth Hub adviser, Alan Smithson, was a great help when we were just starting out. It was good to get a second opinion and confirmation that we were thinking along the right lines.

“He helped me draw up a business plan. I was an experienced chef, but budgets and cashflow forecasts were all new.

“He also persuaded me that we needed a web site – – rather than relying on a Facebook page.”

The business took on its first employee this year and continues to grow.

added: “The unit we’re in at Atlas Works is in two parts and we are only using one of them.

“That means we don’t have the space to do service and preparation at the same time, so I have to do prep after lunch or early in the morning.

“Taking on extra space will allow me to employ someone else to do preparation, so I can concentrate on growing the business.”

If you are thinking of starting your own business or social enterprise, then Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and our partners are here to help with a free business start-up programme to point you in the right direction.

Our comprehensive package of support includes:

  • Free meetings with a business adviser to review and develop your business idea;
  • Free training covering business planning and self-employment, an introduction to marketing/market research and sales forecasts, promotion and sales, an introduction to planning and managing finance, taxation and bookkeeping, using the internet and social media;
  • Free help to develop your business plan and get your business up and running;
  • Free membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

The £1.1m Business Start-up Support (BSUS) project is supporting 300 new businesses and 750 individuals to start businesses, creating 300 jobs.

For more information, call us today on 0844 257 84 50 or click here to visit the Cumbria Business Growth Hub web site.

ERDF logoThe funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.

The BSUS project is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. 

The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.

  • Borough of Barrow-in-Furness
  • Carlisle City Council
  • Allerdale Borough Council
  • South Lakeland District Council
  • Eden District Council
  • University of Cumbria