Patisserie Valerie has been keeping Soho's urban crowd in coffee and croissants since Madame Valerie hopped over from Belgium in 1926. Its present owners - brothers Enzo, Victor and Robert Scalzo - bought the cafe in 1987, and have opened seven more around London. Their expansion of the business and prize-winning creations have turned Patisserie Valerie into a pounds 4 million concern.
Robert is the group chef, and runs the Soho shop. He likes to make regulars feel welcome, and the creation of Patisserie Valerie's web site, www.patisserie-valerie.co.uk, was a loyal customer's vote of thanks. 'He'd been coming in for years and wanted to give Valerie's something back,' says Robert. And it was free.
The first web site, launched in 1999, advertised shop locations, menus and products. It was redesigned a year later, and promoted on a CD-Rom direct mailshot. 'The feedback showed that people really wanted to be able to order online,' says Robert. So, in January, the site was re-launched, enabling customers to browse the cakes, order, pay and nominate a shop for collection.
Eight weeks after launch, the site had generated pounds 1,300 in sales and attracted more than 600,000 hits. 'We get lots of orders from people who come into the shop because they've seen the cakes online. And we've gained a lot more recognition - we're almost a household name,' adds Robert. It's the icing on the cake.