It’s an absolute pleasure to publish an interview with Laura, co-founder of Pop Up Reading. We spoke about Oxford Road, cooking, community and more.
Laura has started Pop Up Reading, a supper club, three years ago with Anu, whom she met on the train. Since then a lot has changed. Laura is about to leave her full-time job in finance to be a full time cooker, baker and pop upper. She lives near Oxford Road in Reading, so following part 1 and part 2 of Oxford Road walk, I’m bringing an interview with the best person possible to speak about the area but also about other things – pursuing the dream, love for cooking, living in the community and running a business. Meet Laura.
About Oxford Road
How did it happen that you live near Oxford Road?
When me and my husband Josep were looking for a house we found a place on Baker Street and we liked it. We used to live near the train station but it was too noisy for us. Baker Street is near the town centre yet it’s quiet and has a community. Anybody can be your neighbour – young professional, an elderly person or working class family. You know each other, not just pass each other by without saying ‘good morning’.
What else do you like about Oxford Road?
I like shopping there, because in different shops I can buy ingredients that I can’t find anywhere else, like tahini, banana leaves and spices. I use them for South East Asian dishes like steamed fish, for example. My favourite shop is Best Food.
I also like walking on Oxford Road. Workhouse Coffee and mosque are some of the highlights for me. I also like the streets off the Oxford Road.
What would you change about Oxford Road? How would like to see it in the future?
I would love to see the area thrive. I think I would love to see it cleaner in some parts and with a wider variety of independent shops. The prettiest and the ugliest streets in Reading are very near – first one being Jesse Terrace and second Waylen Street.
What do you like about Jesse Terrace and dislike about Waylen Street?
I love the houses and how much people look after their front gardens in Jesse Terrace. It’s a hidden jewel. Unfortunately Waylen Street is not always the cleanest or the tidiest. I’ve got the impression that it doesn’t need a lot of work to make it look more friendly and welcoming.
Community Bakery by Pop Up Reading
In what other ways Oxford Road is part of Pop Up Reading?
Couple of months ago we started Community Bakery project and we’ve been hosted by the Oasis on Baker Street, so we’re very close to Oxford Road community.
After Anu, my business partner left to India, I felt a bit lost and didn’t know what to do next with Pop Up Reading. We’ve been always baking our own bread for supper club and I thought I would concentrate on that.
How do you get people to come to your events?
I work closely with local community. I started working with Carey Baptist Church organising baking and cooking classes. They offered me to use the Oasis for the community bakery events. It’s all about finding people with similar approach to mine, building links with the community and neighbours.
Is that why you called your bakery event Community Bakery and not just Pop Up Bakery?
Yes, I want it to be open for everyone, no matter if they’re homeless or have some problems. Everybody can come.All about bread, business, Oxford Road and a bit more in the #interview with Laura @PopUpReading Click To Tweet
That’s the current situation but how have you started?
Life led me. I work in finance and I got an offer of secondment job in the UK. As a result I came with my husband from Spain. We didn’t know anybody here. Giuseppe was travelling back and forth to Madrid for his job and when he was away I was feeling really lonely. I started cooking, because I had too much spare time. I didn’t care who was going to eat the food, because I had something to do and didn’t feel that bad.
What did you cook?
I used to experiment with Keralan and Thai curries as at the time his spice threshold was much lower. This was before we visited Malaysia
Who was eating all you cooked in the end?
My office colleagues and friendly in front neighbours of Shed, who were happy to give me feedback on some of my kitchen experiments.
Pop Up Reading: Humble beginnings
You didn’t think of utilising your skills for business at that time?
No, it wasn’t until I met Anu, my business partner, that we’ve got the idea. I met her on the train and we started chatting. We may not have talked in other circumstances but train journey connected us. What’s interesting, we discovered that we both liked cooking and were at similar point in life, because Anu’s husband was in India, so she also felt quite lonely.
How did you start cooking together?
Anu was organising her birthday party and asked me if I wouldn’t help her to cook as she had a lot to do. We enjoyed it and in one of the conversations she suggested to start a supper club. I think I just said yes, not really knowing what I’m getting myself into.
How did you organise the first supper club?
We didn’t even had big enough table, so Anu’s husband drove us to Ikea. It was so surreal. We picked up this huge table – I don’t even know how we fit it in the car. We went to places like Shed, Workhouse Coffee and told them about the idea, because we assumed that we would find like-minded people there. Then, we invited people and were hoping they would like it. We cooked food with Venitian theme for 10 guests but we cooked like we had at least 30!
Pop Up Reading: Continuation
How did you continue?
The word spread around. On one occasion we had two Twitter influencers dining with us and they really liked it. They tweeted about us and it took off. People liked us and were asking us not to stop doing it.
My brother who is a graphic designer came up with a logo and we started social media accounts. Because we knew good pictures would attract people, so that’s what we were doing.
What’s the most important when having pop up business?
We don’t do any specific cuisine. In pop up it’s all about the flavour. I try to source ingredients locally and buy organic. People can see exactly what I do. I’m transparent and they trust me, because they see I put my heart into what I do and I love it. Trying to build loyal base of customers is important and you can do that only by putting an emphasise on quality.
You also started working with restaurants and shops around Reading? It’s not just supper club anymore.
On the 15th September I’m baking bread for a tasting event in Tasting House on Chain Street. People are coming to work together, because they like what I do, they see I’m transparent. I absolutely love doing what I’m doing and they feel it too. This world is full of nasty food, so as Pop Up Reading we want to offer people something better.
Do you think you can be a pop up business forever or eventually every pop up becomes a regular business?
Pop-up Reading will never be regular…Even if we get a fixed location it will keep its wild and ever-changing spirit.
Pursuing the dream
You’re about to quit 9-5 job and work on Pop Up Reading full-time.
It sounds glamorous to many people. It’s a popular theme in movies and it seems like a dream to many. What kind of experience it is for you?
When I handed in my notice I couldn’t sleep for 2 or 3 nights thinking what have I done, but then we entered in a succession of events and was no time to be scare! Now I think that there’s no way back, the only way is moving forward, so even if I make mistakes or things don’t go as I wish, I will keep on looking for ways to make it work.
What have you learnt?
I learnt that I don’t know everything. That’s important as my skill is the people who surround me. Having a great team is my next objective, as I need very special people with me… People dreaming and breathing food who love to see how food can bring people together and make one’s day. I also learnt that I will make mistakes, that’s inevitable, so I procure to stay grounded and humble as is the way of improving.