Young woman ditches her nine to five and follows her dream to set up a café. It sounds like a chicklit plot, but for Jo Kruczynska, owner of Afternoon Tease, this is reality.
“It’s such a cliché,” laughs Jo. “I worked as an illustrator in Cambridge for two years, decided I didn’t want to do that, then went travelling. I loved the cafés in Australia – they just served good food, good coffee and good cakes, simply, in nice environments. And they were so friendly. I thought, I like baking, I like cooking, I like being around people...”
With the café in mind Jo started a blog, then a supper club – the popular Platelickers Anonymous – on returning to Cambridge. “A lot of people think you can just open a café but there’s so much prep to do. I started my blog with the idea of building up my repertoire. ”
By now famed in Cambridge for her dreamy lemon drizzles and heavenly chocolate Guinness cakes, Jo found her premises in King Street and opened in October last year.
A piece of cake...
“That first day was a nightmare, I was a wreck!” she admits. “I was so tired, I’d baked through the night and if anyone spoke to me I cried! But that day was one of our busiest on record – we ran out of cake.”
Today Afternoon Tease is unfailingly stocked with home-made sweet treats, light lunches and seriously good coffee and tea. Jo says: “We always have chocolate Guinness cake and carrot cake, and not a day goes by when someone doesn’t buy a brownie. The gluten free options are popular too. Elsewhere I use seasonal fruits and for winter we move into ginger cakes, rhubarb, that kind of thing. The lunch menu changes twice weekly, then we have brunch on weekends.”
At this point, Jo is summoned to the kitchen by a bell – her lime and coconut cakes are ready. Are they her own recipe?
“I love trying new recipes, then I tweak them,” she explains. “I made bacon jam recently, which uses treacle-cured bacon, simmered with sugar, onions, and maple syrup, like chutney. It’s just delicious.”
Clearly passionate about her work, asking Jo to name her favourite recipe feels like asking someone to pick their favourite child. “People ask for my recommendations and I end up pointing at everything! I would never put a cake on the counter that I didn’t like, and if I’m the slightest bit worried that a cake is dry I take it off.”
Like most of us, Jo has fond memories of her grandparents’ baking. “My grannies always had cake in a tin somewhere, and you weren't allowed to leave until you'd had at least three slices. I remember making my granddad a Victoria sponge for his birthday once, then trying out new cakes. Now I bake all the time.”
Bake Off: the one that got away
Though Great British Bake Off season is in full swing, Jo confesses a dirty secret: she isn’t a fan. “It’s style over substance, which is why I don’t like cupcakes or really over-iced wedding cakes. There’s a skill to doing that, but I think the quality of the cake suffers. I liked Norman because he wasn’t trying to overcomplicate everything.”
She considered entering the show but decided it wasn’t for her. “I got to the screen test stage then thought, hang on, what am I doing? I don't even like having my picture taken!”
Instead of pursuing fame and fortune, Jo is more interested in encouraging people to support independent businesses, ensuring Cambridge retains its individuality. The indie scene has flourished in recent years, though Jo says a common goal prevents rivalry.
“We’re getting there, and people are starting to seek out independents now. I have a great relationship with the other independents in town; if we can get people out of Costa and Starbucks then there are plenty of people in Cambridge to make us all successful.”
It’s clear Jo has found her calling: her loyal client base – not to mention stylish café and delicious food – is the proof, pardon the pun, in the pudding.
“We get some really nice feedback and it makes my day when I overhear someone saying something lovely. It’s a lot of hard work, and the hours are long. I’m often here 6am-7pm, six days a week. But the good definitely outweighs the bad. And no, I never get sick of cake!”
Afternoon Tease is at 13 King Street, Cambridge