Steve Bell cooks it how he likes to eat – and the regulars keep coming back. Rachael Rowe reports in this month’s look behind the serving counter
There’s a sign on the wall in the Yellow Bicycle Cafe telling customers that there is no WiFi. Instead, people are encouraged to talk to each other. It sums up the positive vibe of one of Blandford Forum’s most popular eateries. Owner Steve Bell tells The BV his story.
What brought you here?
We’ve been here for nine years now. Nine years on 1st March! My first catering business was in South Wales in 2007, after 15 years in the fitness industry. I wanted to turn my passion into a business and there was nothing left for me in the fitness world – it wasn’t possible to get promoted any further.
I started out with a converted VW camper and I did festivals for three summers. Then I set up a cafe in South Wales, and then I came here to Blandford Forum. My criteria was that it had to be within 30 minutes of home and it had to be somewhere with a regular customer base.
In coastal areas, you get a lot of seasonal variation but here there are a lot of regulars, which is easier when managing a business. We see our regulars week in week out.
The cafe is open plan and that’s deliberate – it means we can chat to the customers. If someone is on their own, we can talk to them as we’re preparing the food.
And with an open plan design there’s no hiding place. You can see what the customers are thinking when they eat the food. I’d hate to be a chef stuck out the back in a kitchen.
We’re just too small for someone to sit working on a laptop for two hours, so the deliberate ‘no WiFi’ policy changes the atmosphere. People interact more.
Why a yellow bicycle?
There’s actually no real story to it! I’m a cyclist and I wanted the cafe to have two words so it’s easy to remember.
How many are in the team?
I have four people plus myself. Rhe makes all the cakes and has her own business, Rhe Bakes.
(I was early, but there were already customers enquiring about cake in the cafe)
What flies out of the cafe?
It will always be our campfire beans. Our home made baked beans are cooked in a pan with local sausage, and an egg poached on top. It’s covered with local cheddar and served with home made crusty bread.
I’d be lynched if that ever came off the menu!
Tell us about your suppliers?
One look at the specials menu will tell any customer the food is local. Very local.
We get meat from Rawston Farm, game from Dorset Game Larder – that’s on the menu today. And we have locally roasted coffee, ours comes from Poole, Full Circle Coffee. We also have New Forest asparagus, and cheese from Book and Bucket, Ford Farm and Open Air Dairy near Bridport
What are you most proud of?
The fact that we’re still here! The cafe changed a lot in the pandemic. Something I have learned with the Yellow Bicycle Cafe is that you should always be moving forward and should always be better than last year. Also the fact that we have so many regular customers after nine years – it says a lot that they still keep coming here.
I’m also proud that I’ve won some awards. In 2020 I won the South West Tourism Award for Cafe of the Year. And in 2018, I was National Breakfast Chef of the Year – I’m now on their judging panel. That got us in the Sunday Telegraph.
I have had no formal training as a chef. I didn’t even call myself a chef until I won that award – and then I felt I deserved it.
And your biggest challenge?
Everything relating to COVID. The permanent changes to hospitality that have come out of it. The main thing has actually been post-pandemic, because the government support stopped, and trying to rebuild the business. I hated the Eat Out to Help Out campaign. We don’t take bookings, so it was hard to say to regulars who never book that they had to.
So what’s next?
I just want to keep moving forward, creating new dishes and using lots of local seasonal produce.
When I started out with a cafe, one of the best pieces of advice I had was from a friend in the catering business: “You’re not a trained chef so cook what you are passionate about and cook it how you like to eat it.”
Yellow Bicycle Cafe is open Tuesday to Saturday,
10am to 4pm
(opens 9.30am on Saturdays)
on Salisbury Street, Blandford