Q&A: Tart, Clapham Common

Most of us dream of opening our own cafe. But just how hard is it? Adam Harrison, half of SW4's hottest new all-day hangout, gives us the lowdown

Stylish, and with a bucolic outlook: Tart. Photo: PR
Stylish, and with a bucolic outlook: Tart. Photo: PR

What’s it like running your own gaff?
Petrifying and exhilarating in equal measure. From our “what ifs” two years ago, we’ve developed a product we love, won a funding competition, cried-laughed-scrapped-hugged – and finally opened our own ye olde tart shoppe.

So how on earth did you go about it?
By sitting at a desk, and wondering whether there was a bigger adventure out there for me. So I decided to figure the question out. A two-year garden design course at night showed me I loved gardening, but didn’t want to make it a career. I really enjoyed my day job, working for Facebook, but I knew I wanted to start my own business, to see if I had what it takes (and it helps that my partner, Jace, is a chef). Working in Brazil for six months, we agreed to start up a food idea when we came back, the inspiration being The Queen of Tarts in Dublin, a great place I used to go as a student.

All smiles: Adam and Jace. Photo: Adam Harrison
All smiles: Adam (right) and Jace. Photo: Adam Harrison

What was your first step?
Living in Brixton, we brought our tasty tarts to the farmers’ market in Herne Hill, with a range of salads. We simply couldn’t make enough during the spring to autumn months – even selling over two hundred tarts in a day. Six months later we wanted to give it a proper go. Setting up a shop meant not getting up at ridiculous o’clock every Saturday and Sunday, doing ten trips back-and-forward to the kitchen, and freezing to death at 10am on a November morning.

So why the focus on one item?
Take a peek at an offering in the supermarket and you’ll see a largely beige, flat and uninspiring dish. So we pledged to do the best savoury tarts in the business, eye-catching and held together with minimal custard. It’s all about the quantity of fillings, and thoughtful ingredient combinations. Try a smoked haddock, spinach, caramelised white onion and mustard one; it comes with a mini-fillet of smoked fish on top. Or perhaps a roast Mediterranean vegetable tart, with a red onion jam at the bottom and roasted veg, feta, olives and pine nuts on top. Our salads are also a major draw: things like black rice, coconut, mango and toasted nuts, or roast beetroot, blood orange, walnuts and mint.

Chprizo and red pepper tart. Photo: PR
Chorizo and red pepper tart. Photo: PR

How did you make the cash side work?
We found a friend who could build a financial plan, scraped together our savings, started looking for premises through an agent and then knew we had way less money than we needed. Realising the amount of relevant knowledge our friends had – from phone numbers to commercial agents, design and more – has been a defining flavour. We couldn’t have done it without so many people bringing their area of expertise to our challenge.

But then you won funding?
The Worth Retail Foundation were looking to find three retail start-ups to fund and mentor. Jace waved the article in my face and said, “let’s enter”. Despite there being 970 applicants, we came runners-up in the competition, scooping up £75k in funding. We went on hols the next day and, we confess, may have got a little drunk on the flight over.

Shop display. Photo: PR
Shop display. Photo: PR

Was it hard to find the right venue?
We let go our original agent, who was steering us to long-vacant units in the West End, and opted for an agency who showed us this place overlooking Clapham Common. Gulping down the fear at the massive premium, rent and then fit-out, we remembered our phrase, “let’s give it a go”. We had a plan, knew what we should be able to afford and, by taking a trip down to see the then leaseholder and sell him our dream, we bagged it.

Finally, is the gamble paying off?
We’re full at weekends, but I’ll be honest: we’ve had some quiet weeks during the winter months. But we’ve got to stand fast and know that we gave it a go, because not doing it at all would have been the far worse option to take.

Tart bakes savoury tarts, fresh salads and serves breakfasts, lunches, gourmet Volcano coffee and Brew Tea’s leaf teas. Open all day. 25 The Pavement, Clapham Common SW4 0JA. Follow them on @tartclapham

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