Former builder Mark Hart has proved a sweet sensation after winning a top award for the success of his coffee shop and bakery.
Dad-of-three Hart spent two decades as a tradesman before a back operation forced him to rethink his career.
The 38-year-old discovered he had a talent for cake decorating and set to work laying the foundations for a coffee shop and bakery after recognising the need for one in his area.
He said: “Blackhill had every shop imaginable, but no coffee shop, and I saw this as a gap in the market.”
Sweetheart, Coffee and Cake opened last summer on Derwent Street, in Blackhill, County Durham, and has since generated ï¿½100,000 in sales for the year ending April 2013. Hart now hopes to build on this by five per cent next year after breaking even.
The business has five members of staff, three apprentices and two full-time, after initially setting up on the back of a cake Hart made for his eldest son’s birthday four years ago.
Hart, who lives in Blackhill with his partner Lisa and three children Danny, eight, Jamie, seven, and Grace, three, said: “I was a builder for 20 years and it was my eldest son’s birthday and he wanted a cake in the shape of a volcano. A few people saw it and then asked if I’d make one for their kids. That’s how it all started.”
Now Hart hopes to achieve his long-term goal of expanding into the wholesale sector.
He said: “Many businesses are still in debt after their first year, but we have broken even which is great news. We are already supplying pubs such as the Royal Oak in Meadomsley and the Sidegate Gallery in Sunniside with desserts and scones, so I’d like to expand on that.
“At the moment, however, I can’t get out to visit as many pubs as I’d like to as our apprentices are six months into their training.
“Once they are fully qualified, I hope to be able to hand over more responsibilities to them so I can get out and about.”
Hart, who usually starts work at 3.30am and finishes around 6pm, scooped a gold award for his baked egg custard in this year’s Great Taste Awards 2013. The awards are organised annually by the Guild of Fine Food and described as the ‘Oscars’ of the food world.
Hart said: “The egg custard is one of our best-sellers, so the win is fantastic news. When I entered the competition after reading about it in a magazine, I never thought that we’d win. I sent off the dessert in February and have just heard that we won gold. It’s unbelievable.”
So what’s next for Hart?
He said: “We’re going to be appearing on a TV programme in November, but I can’t say too much about it just now. Watch this space!”