Why are dessert shops so popular? Little Dessert Shop owner talks ahead of Telford opening
Life is sweet for sweet for dessert shops – a trend that is about to sweep across Shropshire.
Already a phenomenon in the urban West Midlands, with hour-long queues not uncommon, the specialist pudding restaurants are starting to crop up here too.
Asin Tahraf snatches a brief moment to talk in his dessert cafe, which is packed to the rafters.
"I guess people just have a sweet tooth," he says.
"People want us to open earlier, every time we open at 12 there's always a queue of people waiting to get in.
"It is just something that is becoming more and more popular."
While the traditional high street retailers might be in the doldrums, and pubs continue to close at an alarming rate, it seems the one thing we haven't lost our taste for is sweet treats.
Asin, 20, is the manager of Sweet in Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury, the latest branch of a dessert chain which has seen rapid expansion since it was formed in Walsall just two years ago. It has since been followed by branches at nearby Aldridge, Stoke-on-Trent, and even one in Mile End, London. A branch in Stafford is due to open shortly.
"We have been a lot busier since we opened the one at Shrewsbury," he says. "It is in a really good location, and it gets really busy."
He is not alone. When the Little Dessert Company opened its first branch in Wolverhampton two years ago, crowds would regularly gather outside as people waited for tables to become available. Even now, it is not unknown for people to wait up to an hour to get a table at the 70-seat restaurant.
Like Sweet, the Little Dessert Shop specialises entirely in desserts, with a huge range of cakes, puddings crepes and ice creams.
At the moment, Little Dessert Shop founder Maz Ali is putting the final touches to his business's ninth branch, at Hazeldine Square in Telford's Central Square. The anticipation for the new branch is palpable. Initially the company tried to keep the proposed new branch secret, but when a member of staff put a card in a window to help the postman find the unit, social media went into meltdown with talk of the new branch.
Area manager Roman Aslamzada says: “A lot of our customers are travelling from Telford to Wolverhampton so there was demand there
"We were getting emails every so often with customers demanding we do it. We were looking for a site for three or four months before we found this one.
“It has all been positive so far, but we were keeping things tight-lipped until it appeared online."
The Telford restaurant was originally due to open in April this year, but was delayed due to "unforeseen circumstances", leading to a second online frenzy of speculation about when, if at all, the chain would come to Telford.
But Mr Aslamzada says the opening is now imminent.
"The new branch will be opening in the next few days, it's very exciting," he says.
“We are trying to replicate what we have got in Wolverhampton, and bring a bit of sweetness to Telford."
The chain already has a presence in Shropshire thanks to its restaurant in Shoplatch Shrewsbury, which has already proved a large success during its first months.
Mr Ali has big plans for his business, with an ambitious target of 30 shops by the end of the year.
Like its rival Sweet, the Little Dessert Shop also considered opening a branch in London, but decided instead to concentrate on expansion closer to home.
However Mr Ali is convinced it is only a matter of time before his business has a national presence on high streets up and down the country.
“I don’t doubt that we’ll create a nationwide presence through our planned future expansion," he says.
So why are people going crazy for puddings at a time when the high street appears to be in terminal decline, suffering from a lethal combination of parking charges, soaring rates, and internet competition?
Part of this may be down to the influence of television shows such as Great British Bake Off, which have revived interest in home-made puddings. If people do not have the skill or the inclination to bake their own cakes, then calling in at a specialist pudding restaurant is the next best thing.
The new breed of dessert shops have also been quick to adapt to the internet age. Many of them now provide a delivery service, and are available through the growing number of fast-food phone apps. Mr Ali says his company also makes considerable use of social media as part of its marketing strategy, and this has helped build up a considerable following among the young.
"We have created a strong social media presence," says Mr Ali.
"We are continually investing in our brand and creative marketing, and have ensured that we have the best systems in place to make running a store a success for all involved."
The company's Wolverhampton shop also received a touch of celebrity stardust when the pop group Bekin, which appeared on ITV series X Factor, paid a visit.