Career changes are common enough but making a move from car parts to cupcakes and cappuccinos has to be one of the more unusual ones.
For Simon Manton, going from washing cars at his local garage to owning his own cafe – with a spell working for celebrity chef Rick Stein along the way thrown in for good measure – is a switch he’s delighted to have made.
But running Manton’s Patisserie, in Newhall Street, Birmingham, happened more by chance than by design for the 34-year-old pastry expert.
As a car-mad youngster, Mr Manton went from having a part-time job at Rover dealership County Garages in Castle Bromwich to working there full time and rising through the ranks to become parts department manager.
“While I was still at school I started working washing cars, I loved cars and still do,” said Mr Manton, who now lives in Hampton-in-Arden.
“Sadly County Garages closed down and went into receivership - another one of the statistics.”
Although it came as a shock he started to seriously weigh up his options, though initially a career cooking wasn’t high on the agenda.
“I had managed to save a bit of money and realised I could probably support myself for a couple of years,” he added.
“I had never done any cooking really but my wife had worked in a kitchen and she showed me a few things - I liked it and it went from there.
“I thought I would see how it goes - even if I didn’t get anywhere it would be a good skill to have.
“But I got the bug and even now when I have a day off I will still cook a bit.”
He enrolled on a two-year course at the Birmingham College of Food, Tourism & Creative Studies and became a full-time student, something which proved another shock to the system.
“It was hard work in a room of a hundred 16-year-olds, being a lot older, and though I wasn’t the only mature student I was the only one to finish the course,” he said.
“It was hard to get used to but I also found it quite liberating, being on a level playing field and starting again.”
Mr Manton spent the first year going through what he describes as the “normal chef route” before discovering his love of all things pastry-related and from there he never looked back. He initially worked in a couple of gastro pubs where he honed his pastry-making skills further.
“I enjoyed the pastry side, it was nicer work and the hours were better too,” he said. “I enjoy getting up early, starting my working day and finishing early.”
During his course Mr Manton also did a two-week work placement at Rick Stein’s Padstow food empire and after a week there he was offered a job - or two to be precise.
Though he didn’t see much of the great man himself (he said he was mostly away filming), he learned a huge amount and says it helped him immensely in his subsequent career path.
It was a toss-up between the seafood restaurant and the patisserie and Mr Manton chose the latter but his arrival in the real world of catering proved a bit of a wake-up call.
He said: “It was a lot of hard work and very long hours and hard being away from home. I used to come back every fortnight.
“But I felt I needed to spend six months there as a minimum to learn as much as I could and justify it on my CV.
“With the benefit of hindsight I would have to say that without it I don’t think I would be where I am now.
“As with a lot of things you have to put the hard work in to get to where you are going. That was part of gaining my wings so to speak.”
From there Simon went to work at the Cacao Bean at Moreton-in-Marsh and honed his pastry-making skills further still under owner Silke Bruening.
“She was the one I felt I learned most from on the artistic side - she was unbelievable,” he said. “It was a place where I felt quite contented and I would have stayed longer but I was commuting from home and the shifts were long and hard.”
After a short stint at bakery Bread Collection in Knowle Mr Manton finally got around to fulfilling his big ambition - to open his own patisserie and coffee shop.
“It was my train of thought from when I started college,” he said. “I was putting a business plan together for something I thought would work.
“One day I walked through Balsall Common and popped in to every bank – I think there are seven. I got three telephone calls back and only one was interested.
“If it wasn’t for that one person I don’t think it would have happened. He really fought my corner and believed in me and my passion for it and we managed to get the finance through.”
Manton’s opened in October 2010 and fulfilled Mr Manton’s vision of a coffee shop where everything was freshly made and he felt delivered “a bit of quality” to the Birmingham market, in particular getting away from the numerous coffee shop chains which he feels are “dull and dreary”.
“It had to be cheery, a place where businessmen can come in the week for a meeting or where kids can come with their mums and dads at the weekend for a cupcake,” he said.
For Mr Manton the contrast to his old life is marked and a world away from dealing with problems in after-sales.
“In after sales every single thing is a problem and the customer is never happy,” he said.
“Here they come in and are already happy to be here.
“I feel as soon as they come through the door we are on to a winner. It’s nice to have people give you compliments and say they enjoy your food after having so many years of problems to deal with.”
And as far as Manton’s goes it’s definitely a case of so far so good.
“It’s certainly going in the right direction,” Mr Manton added.
“Considering we have been open for six months I am quite surprised where we are at but it has taken a lot of hard work and a lot of hours but I think that is what you have to do when you open your own business. I have no regrets though. I thoroughly enjoy my job and I enjoy working for myself.
“We haven’t had one complaint yet and that says it all really.”