In part one of our interview with festival favourite The Cake Hole, we found out how a passing offer to run a café at Glastonbury turned into the delectable delight that it has now become.
In part two of our interview we talk about the importance of a strong team, the community of festivals and the best thing Annette has ever seen at a festival.
With regards to staffing, do you have the same crew that come back each year or is it different people each year?
It used to be my friends and we all used to go, but a lot of them have gotten too old now and don’t want the disruption. Now they’re all Lauren’s [my daughter] acquaintances and friends and people her age. So the last couple of years we had a much younger crew and they have much more energy! We have one lad in particular who’s been with us since he was at university, it must be over 10 years now that he’s been turning out in the summer and taking his holiday to come and work with us. So that’s nice because he knows what’s going on.
We had a new member last year and he’s great, Henry can put the dome up and ice cakes. We get some people as well who, especially for Shambala, have been going since they were children and now need an adult ticket. Adult tickets need to be worked for, so they start a couple of years before they need the adult ticket and come in the café as volunteers to do a couple of shifts and learn the ropes. That way, when they get to 18 and need an adult ticket they know what goes on and they can come in and do a proper shift. Shambala is a bit of a basic crew with a lot of extra help because they’re growing up and want to keep coming back because maybe Mum’s been teaching yoga and they’ve been coming since they were little. So it’s a big family affair that one, so the crew is always different.
When I think about the meadow at Shambala I’m not surprised to hear that at all because it has a very family, communal vibe and it’s a sensible idea learning the ropes a few years before you need to get an adult ticket. Do you have a different set up for WOMAD and Glastonbury then?
We’re down to 10 for Glastonbury and 12 for WOMAD. We like to have a basic putting up crew time and time again and front of counter people; if they’ve worked in cafés they can easily turn their hand to front of counter. Some people can do it really well, some people can do kitchen better and they just find their niche. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all and they don’t want to come back and we don’t want them to come back and sometimes it works really well and they’ll stick with us for a couple of years till their life changes in one way or another.
It must be nice to know you have your own little community of reliable people who want to come back and that even if it starts as just a way to get a free festival ticket for some people it blossoms into something that makes them want to come back to you every year. Like you said, working at a festival is very hard and it’s intense so you must be doing something right if people want to come back each year!
Well we’re a group when we’re there and we always cook a crew breakfast and evening meal. It started because of food poisoning and various things like that and now we always cook. So even if we can’t pay people for coming, we can always feed them and the next thing we do is try to cover their fuel expenses; we really are a group. As things go on during the year we’ll visit people, they’ll come down and stop, so it is a community I suppose, a movable community.
It’s of course still a job, but I think to view it more as a community that comes together lends itself very well to the festival sector. Also the fact that once work is finished you’re at a festival, I can see why that would appeal to people.
They’ve also got a group of people to go out with and they’re very good at taking a new person in with them. My granddaughter came one year to Glastonbury and she was just scooped up by the group and they all went out together. They all kept an eye out for each other and that was that, it was great.
That must be so welcoming to someone who’s new. Inserting yourself into any pre-existing dynamic can be daunting but knowing that your team will make anyone and everyone feel welcome is perfect.
Yeah and it means they look forward to the next year because they know they went out and had a good time. We’ve always worked shift patterns so that if somebody wants to go and see someone [perform] they organise for somebody to swap out with them, so they get to see what they want. When we do Glastonbury we used to have the older people doing the morning shift and the younger people doing the busy centre shift so they’d knock off and they’d be able to go out and wouldn’t have to come on ’til early afternoon the next day.
Have you had to raise your prices at all to reflect increased supply and energy costs?
Yes we have. WOMAD wasn’t too bad because their pitch fee isn’t majorly astronomic. It’s big enough that it makes a big whole in your bank balance but we know we’re going to be busy. We buy the best ingredients and that’s why the cakes taste good and I use all organic and free range ingredients. But I’ve had relationships with the suppliers for a long time so I often get a very good deal. We have had to increase prices but I think there is a limit to how much people will pay for a piece of cake so do you put the price up or cut it down and make smaller portions? I don’t really know. We’ve got to set prices for next year soon, but we don’t know what our pitch fee is going to be and that’s a real difficult one.
That’s understandable, you’re having to do that almost a year in advance and as we saw last year the economy can crumble in 49 days, let alone a year. You could set a price now that is reflective of the current economy and is still conservative enough for a pricier pitch fee, then next year comes around and it’s all changed. Are you able to change the prices later on?
Some won’t let you change so then the only option is to cut the quantity down so instead of 12 you get 14 slices of cake out of a tray. Coffee is quite expensive anyway, Lauren tends to go around and have a look at the general prices of others and we match those prices. But it’s difficult to know for each festival.
It’s strange because people would probably pay so much for a coffee and not question it but with cake there is that element of being an unspoken limit in your head of ‘well I’m not going to pay that much for some cake.’ But at a festival the rules can be a bit different can’t they. My final question for you then is admittedly a harsh one; what is your favourite festival to go to from both a trader perspective and punter perspective?
My personal favourite has always been WOMAD for the world music and the same for the café actually. I don’t work in the café at Shambala because I’m too busy doing other things and that’s a good event for the café but because of the music, it has to be WOMAD for me. I like the world music, I mean you go not knowing anybody and read through the programme and go ‘ooh!’ We’ve seen some amazing things at WOMAD over the years. In the Siam Tent there was an orchestra from Uzbekistan I think and there were all in boxes over the stage with lights round like the mirrors you get in dressing rooms. They all had red curtains and the man who was playing was dressed all in white with a turban and they’d be sat in these boxes and when it was his turn to play, they’d open the curtains and the lights would go on. It was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen at WOMAD.