Indie Oxford Interview: Jess McHugh Owner Of Silvie & Browns
When did you take over the family business and what changes did you make?
Essentially I am the next generation to Browns, having grown up in the building with my parents running the business in the traditional Guest House/B&B style. Just under three years ago, I took over the reins and changed the format to work in what I felt to be a more modern approach to accommodation. We refurbished the 10 bedrooms, now sell them room-only and opened up the ground floor areas (which were previously reserved as breakfast space and private family areas) into SILVIE including the lovely garden and Rosie the resident cat of course! The businesses, although separate identities, are run together and compliment each other. SILVIE is a welcomed space for Browns guests to work, play, eat and drink but is also a space for locals (and those further afield) to do exactly the same – home from home for both traveller and local alike!
What did you do before you took over the business?
I come from an Arts and Theatre Management background – the worlds of catering and hospitality were completely new to me, and were a steep learning curve indeed. But I knew the building, I lived surrounded by what the original business was and I grew up in East Oxford so I felt, although the industry is new to me, the area and people I know well and to me that was and remains the foundation anyhow.
It started with spaces that were home and I didn’t want to scrub that away but rather make more of it.
Silvie & Browns have a lovely cosy feel, how did you go about designing the rooms?
As I described my background is Art, which included both an interiors and some set design stints so I applied a certain amount of that I suppose. To be honest though, its very much from the heart, what I like and also what the purse budget would allow – It started with spaces that were home and I didn’t want to scrub that away but rather make more of it. I sourced creatively from everywhere including home, charity shops and the odd skip.. And I am continually adding and wanting to improve how the spaces feel and work. Through the help of friends I also managed to get some great art work on the walls which provides a real energy and connection to the place – this is something I am working on growing the exhibiting spaces of both SILVIE and Browns in the future.
What are the businesses best known for?
Gosh – Cinnamon buns when it comes to SILVIE, we even get phone calls about them! Yes, but no, people seem to like us and our seasonal menu and of course the counter offerings appears to create a good flutter of excitement with our customers. Plus the cat; everyone from 0-100 yrs seems to find something to love which is really wonderful. As for Browns, our guests love how their stay really does tap them into the area – “travel like a local”. We’re relaxed, modern and comfortable akin it to like staying in your coolest mate’s house lush spare room! We also strive to work with creatives and charities within the area including local theatres, Oxfam and The Art Room.
Where do you source produce and products for the café and bedrooms?
Local is key always. We work with local farmers, butchers, bakers, soap makers – sounds like a nursery rhyme but true, plus other local coffee roasters, wine sourcers and artists too and many other wonderful and clever local peeps.
What makes Browns and Silvie unique?
The people in it. The customers, the guests and of course the team. I make it a priority to keep listening and improving.
What would be your advice for anyone wanting to open a cafe?
Don’t – if you want a waist, a social life and any spending money or holiday its not for you. Haha, I’m sure there is light at the end of the business owner’s tunnel somewhere otherwise I wouldn’t get up in the morning; but it really is a lifestyle for the few prepared for lots of blood, sweat and tears. It also feels incredibly tough to never truly enjoy what you work so darn hard at creating.
How important is the local community to your business?
Everything. If we don’t work for them then we’ve no work to do. We’re their and they’re our bread and butter – simple and never forgotten.
Finally, what are your favourite independent businesses in Oxford?
If I get a free Friday or weekend day I love go and just sit and soak up the tranquility of Worton Gardens.
Jess is truly dedicated to supporting the local community, and providing a welcoming space where people can meet, get to know each other and support a range of local businesses as a result.
Jess very kindly hosts some of our brunch Independent Oxford meet ups, which are a big hit with our members, and burgeoning small businesses. If you would like to join us for our next meet up, we’ll be sitting down to cinnamon buns, coffee and good conversation on 10th October from 10-12. You can grab a ticket here.
Love, Rosie xxx