Our Christmas night out! Dec 2011
Over the past thirty years, Billie's Cafe has become a Brighton institution. The current owners, brother and sister team, Lisa and Dominic have been here for nearly eleven years serving their loyal customers. Below is an interview Lisa gave to local journalist, Judy Bowes
Brighton’s Number One Breakfast
Lisa Peterson – co-owner Billie’s Café
JB: Billie’s is a neighbourhood institution. For decades, the famous Hash Browns have had loyal customers queuing round the corner every Sunday morning. You ran with the hashes but how difficult was it to put your own stamp on the menu without upsetting the regulars?
LS:…..It was very easy. Dom had already been working at Billie’s for the previous owners before we bought the cafe nine years ago. He kept what worked and removed the items that were less popular. The addition of a wider lunch menu and a greatly extended vegetarian menu did the rest. I think we would have lasted a month if we had changed the hash menu too much.
JB: I was pleased to see you introduced free-range eggs. Are you moving toward local producers and traceable sources for your ingredients?
LS:…..We use local companies wherever possible. One of the first things we did was source free-range eggs from a local farm. Our sausages are hand-made in Brighton and we moved to an independent dairy.
JB: Your head chef, your brother, is French-trained. Is there any room for a fine dining strand to your menu, or have you ever considered putting on special supper evenings?
LS...... The skills he learned in fine cuisine have simply been transferred to our daytime menu. We are just too small to accommodate the stock and trappings of a separate menu. We want to make sure that our food is always top notch and that gets harder to do if you spread yourself too thin. We have had a few, very fun, evening parties and would consider special supper evenings.
JB: You’ve made the dining area very light and airy and made the most of the indoor/outdoor aspect of Billie’s ‘goldfish bowl’ qualities with plants and colour. Do you do your own design and décor?
LS...... It’s a fabulous spot for people watching and the enormous windows make it feel light on the gloomiest of days. We have made a lot of changes to the café during the past six years but they’ve been so gradual that very few of our customers have ever noticed. The furniture, floor, colour-scheme, table cloths and utensils are all new. I’m a frustrated gardener, so I’ve been delighted that people have been so complimentary about the new flower boxes.
JB: Do you still support local artists by exhibiting their work.?
LS: ………..Yes. The current pictures were hand printed by one of our waitresses, Dani, who has been with us for nearly five years. We are always interested in hearing from local artists.
JB: Health scares are a constant concern for cafes, but I notice you proudly bear the badge of 5 stars – an enviable hygiene standard. Did this require a lot of investment of time and money?
LS:……..I don’t think anyone who hasn’t worked in the trade appreciates just how much money and effort goes into getting 5 stars. When we first bought the café it was popular, but in a pretty shabby state. We have invested heavily in our staff and equipment and it has paid off.
JB: What is the furthest one of your customers has travelled to sample your menu?
LS:…..Nearly all of our customers are regulars. I probably recognise 90% of them and usually have a fair idea what they’ll order before they speak. However, we’ve had customers from Australia and Canada who have been recommended by friends at home to come to us; although, I doubt we were the reason for their trip to the UK. After the excellent write up in the Guardian we had a lot of new customers. One family of seven actually travelled all the way from East Anglia just to eat at Billie’s!