Meet our Sponsor: Aasia Baig

Meet Aasia

I’m Aasia Baig, founder and owner of Centenary Lounge which is a collection of cafes/Tearooms inspired by the railway refreshment rooms of the 1930s Art Deco Period. I’m also a mum to three incredibly smart and beautiful daughters and wife to a Mr Baig! I turned 50 earlier this year and certainly feeling peri menopausal.
I’ve been in business since I was 21 years old and have set up several retail and hospitality businesses from scratch. I bought my first retail business/project at the age of 21, increased its turnover three fold, repaid the business loan and sold it for an incredibly good profit. Over a period of 15 years from 1993 to 2008, I would buy dilapidated businesses and turn them around for a profit moving onto the next one. A bit like a business rescuer!
My career path or decision to become this business woman, all came about due to the circumstances I was in at the time. This is quite difficult to explain without going into too much detail but I would say that what happened during the age of 17 to 20 led me quite naturally onto this path. I had lost all my confidence, but I was resilient and had the courage to keep on going. Having my girls gave me that sense of purpose, I had to show them a better future. So at the age of 21, with 3 month old twins and no qualifications except for GCSE’s, claiming benefits and then – husband arrived to the UK for the first time from Pakistan. The only work experience I had ever had in my teens (and a little younger!) was helping my dad in his retail stores and I was super good at it, hence why I bought a retail business. In the earlier years, we lived above the retail premises which allowed us to look after our young girls as well as work, plus this meant we didn’t have to rely on childcare.

The birth of Centenary Lounge

During the early 2000’s I could see a major shift happening in how we shopped, received news and information, communicated with each other and also in general consumer behaviour. The internet was changing all of this at an alarming rate and I knew we had to move quickly. No matter how great a retail business, it would be affected by this change.

In the 90’s my friends and I would meet to go shopping and then invite each other around for a tea or a coffee, whereas mid 2000’s I noticed we wouldn’t meet for shopping but would go out and meet for a coffee. The behaviours were changing and it became evident that hospitality would be one of the reasons we leave our homes for those special experiences but not for retail as much.

With the coffee scene taking off and having a natural infinity with food and drink I went onto search for a concept that is unique and tells a story. Having had leases in railway stations since 2002 I came across an opportunity at the newly restored Grade ll Birmingham Moor St Station where I fell in love with the charming station and the history of the refreshment rooms of the Great Western Railway. After carrying out a lot of research into the 1930’s art deco design especially the techniques and styles used in the cafe interiors by the railways, Centenary Lounge was born in June 2009.

Growing the business

Our GWR replica crockery used in the refreshment room at the station became a talking point and many customers wished to purchase some for souvenir purposes, some also ‘took them’ which inspired and encouraged us to launch our very own range of GWR branded replica range of giftware called Recreations.

There are currently two physical locations for the Centenary Lounge. Both have been shortlisted for national design awards; the Centenary Lounge in Birmingham Moor St Station was shortlisted for the National Railway Heritage Award and the Centenary Lounge in Worcester was shortlisted for the prestigious global Restaurant and Bar Design Awards in two categories; café UK and heritage building.

Through recent years and more so during the pandemic, I have looked into creating Centenary Lounge experiences at home. This has been achieved by offering a local collection and delivery service, along with pivoting into the giftware arena with our branded hampers, GWR crockery, afternoon teas and a bespoke corporate gift service. Creating an all-inclusive eco system. I have also been working on the franchise model for Centenary Lounge and have just launched this exciting part of the business. There are essentially two concepts; the Express Lounge which is at Birmingham Moor St and great for small busy places and the First Class Lounge for that little more indulgence and great for larger cities and travel termini.

 

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What is it like being in the hospitality industry? 

Being in the hospitality industry, I find I never really switch off as what I do is a passion, it’s who I am. Wherever I go, I look for inspiration and creativity. It’s all around us, you just need to be in tune with it. If you’re looking to start out in hospitality, I’ve put together a few insights and valuable lessons which I’ll share here:

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Some tips and lessons for starting out in hospitality:

 

Securing Funding

Being a woman in a volatile hospitality industry, you’re going to face some additional challenges especially securing finance. In the beginning I often got asked whether my husband is the actual owner or investor and when I told them no it is me I was then given a long list of requirements and guarantees to obtain the finance. Once you build a track record, it does get easier though. Make sure you have a business plan from the outset, the banks feel confident that you have completed your research.

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Recruitment

Do not in any circumstances use a recruitment company for temporary or permanent positions. The costs are expensive and unviable, given the high staff turnover in this industry. Instead advertise for the positions on the industry platforms available or even social media, paying attention to the details you put on the vacancy so it attracts the right talent that you are in need of. Word of mouth or asking friends or relatives to ask within their circles especially for temporary part time positions is a much better proposition.

Understand the Hospitality Industry

 

No matter how much you try to learn about the industry before you actually enter it, you will still make lots of mistakes and fail also. The lesson is to quickly pick yourself up, learn from the mistake, adjust your sails and start moving forward again that much wiser.

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Learning the ropes

 

As an owner it is very important to learn each aspect of the business. From front of house duties to the kitchen you should know how every station works. This will stand you in good stead with the team and you will quickly recognise if something is not how it should be.

Find Your Niche

Have a niche, stick to your concept and what works. Constant Innovation is the key to keep things current and interesting but innovate only within your brand and concept guidelines. Get to know your guests and why they like to visit your restaurant. There are so many options out there for your clients that knowing what they like and dislike will provide you with a clear direction and strategy on how to stay relevant to your ideal guest.

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Your Health & Wellbeing

Burnout is a reality in this beautiful but testing industry. It’s easier said than done I know I’ve been there quite a few times! First of all, I’d say make sure you have a good team who know your values and know how to operate the restaurant efficiently even when you’re not there. Put some systems in place. Secondly, have another hobby or two that are different to what you do for work. Exercise regularly, whether it’s going for a run or a yoga class, 10 minutes of meditation perhaps, just something for the mind and body as well. Finally, definitely have a good support system around you, friends and family who know what you do and are genuinely supportive.

The Gender Pay Gap in Hospitality

In February 2022, The Caterer reported the following:

Hospitality’s gender pay gap increased for the first time in three years in 2020/2021, according to a report by WiHTL – Diversity in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure and professional services network PwC.

The report found that in hospitality the average mean gender pay gap had increased from 5.4% to 7.7%.

Data showed that of the highest paid 25% of positions across hospitality, travel and leisure, 58% are held by men. Among the lowest paid 25% of positions, 54% are held by women.

The report highlighted that as well as contributing to pay inequalities, this meant that jobs held by women were more likely to be casual and vulnerable to reactionary business decisions.

Knowing the high number of women working in the hospitality industry and then at the report, it certainly is concerning, but it’s also good to see that both the pay and bonus gaps in hospitality, in general, are lower than the average pay gap across all industries . Here at Centenary Lounge we are proud to pay everyone equally according to their work and responsibilities not gender. This industry is tough with long hours, so it can be challenging for women especially with young families and limited support, but we are always encouraging women to step outside their comfort zones and offering them the flexibility to achieve their ambitions.

 

Women Who, Worcestershire

Being a mother of three girls and one of four sisters, championing and supporting women somewhat comes naturally to me.

Sponsoring this fabulous group and its amazing founders Lisa and Carrie was a no brainer. Being new to Worcester in 2019 I joined a few networking groups, Women Who, Worcestershire being one. This was the group which actually held physical meetings which allowed me to meet some wonderful supportive, and professional ladies here in Worcestershire. This group has encouraged some great connections and I feel I know more people in Worcestershire than I did where I previously lived – now that’s saying something! Thank you x

 

Find Centenary Lounge online here: https://centenarylounge.com/

 

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