Agriculture and Food

Crumbs! Docks cafe On Toast is back - and getting a surprisingly large slice of the action

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 11 June 2020 7:43

When your business relies on customers coming through your door, suppliers delivering on time, and passing trade being able to pop in the pandemic came in like a sledgehammer blow. 

David Purchase, the owner of the popular café and takeaway business On Toast near the Nielsen T & Co Ltd ship yard off Gloucester Docks, felt that blow like many others. 

In what could be seen as a lesson in business acumen, resilience, determination, resourcefulness (all those kinds of words) Mr Purchase is now open again - and possibly faring better than ever.

For those seeking a positive story of one man fighting back against the crippling force of the pandemic, here it is.

Customers can order in advance, swing by and pick up or just drop by and do the same – to an astonishingly full menu, although there is one surprising key ingredient missing element. 

“To make this work I have to be able to deliver very fast and anything that takes time – and toast takes a bit too long,” said Mr Purchase, speaking as a man who knows what side his bread is buttered. 

It has not stopped customers ordering everything from gourmet options including marinated barbecue chicken cheese and bacon, mega belly busters for carnivores and veggies alike to the favourites like ham and cheese, teas and coffees. 

Not that Mr Purchase, originally looking forward to marking 10 years since giving birth to the business, is exactly celebrating just yet. His current success is hard won after a complete re-think and roll-out of his operation which ever-changing. 

“I came up with the idea of the business in 2010 and launched in 2011. I always say having a business is a bit like having a baby. In the early days you have to look after it, but by the time it gets to nine years old you would like to think it can look after itself – and you – a bit,” he said, which is exactly what the café was doing. And then came covid-19. 

“Suddenly we were really worried about whether it was ever going to open again. It was closed for seven weeks – during which time I took stock of everything.” 

Like someone waiting and waiting for good weather in a storm he eventually saw his chance to re-open – albeit as a takeaway business only. 

“I knew I could not have any staff, unfortunately. If they showed symptoms, I would then have to self-isolate for 14 days and we would be closed again.” 

Which is long-hand for taking it all on himself. 

His ray of sunshine was the popular online food portal, Just East, on which he planned to list. But before he could overcome the red-tape surrounding that his social media reveal that food was available started paying dividends. To the point Just Eat was left on the side – just in case. 

Working four hours a day he found customers just kept coming – helped partly, he thinks, by the good weather, partly by the search for ‘something normal’, by which he means the kind of thing they enjoyed pre-lockdown. 

By the end of the second bank holiday he was matching his full-days takings in the same time. 

Incredible effort has had to be put into sourcing food as reliable supply chains has collapsed, but his success has both surprised him and given him confidence that his business as potential to adapt. 

He probably is not giving himself credit for all of those adaptations – which include a new frenetic pace of working. He remains resolute, stoic and positive. 

“I am not dealing with my regular customers yet, the ship yard workers are not back there, the students from UWE or the college. So, there is still that bit of business once things return to some kind of normal.” 

Not bad for a business he admits opened on the then “difficult” side of the Docks on West Quay, away from the obvious footfall with an idea some doubted. Not bad at all.