Food mags, Sérendipité & Interview with Céline Debray

In the last few years, a new generation of food-related magazines have spread like mushrooms after the rain, paying serious attention to their layout, design, typography, and the quality of photography. These volumes are beautiful objects to keep and collect, not something you read and trash. Back in Switzerland, the only way we could get those hard-to-find, low-volume publications was our “friend”: eBay.

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Enters Sérendipité. Founded by Céline Debray, this e-shop allowed us to finally get our favourite publications without vertiginous shipping costs. Not only do they stock an impressive amount of food journals, but Céline also scours the world to find the most exciting publications on interior design, travel, and everything lifestyle really. If you’re in Switzerland, make sure you like her Facebook page for not missing out the most exciting and beautiful mags out there.

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As FoodCrafters strongly values entrepreneurship and people who launch their own businesses, we would like to talk more about the entrepreneurs we meet , their story and how they turned their dreams into reality. We had the chance to ask Céline a few questions about her story and we really hope her experience will inspire our readers to start their own business (or magazines!)

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FC: Hi Céline, can you introduce yourself and tell us the story behind sérendipité?

Hi FC, Céline, 34, French citizen born in Normandy, living in Switzerland for ±8 years. I studied Information Sciences (not Information Technologies please ;) in 3 French universities and have worked for different companies in Scientific information, competitive intelligence, Knowledge management and trends both in France and in Switzerland.

Last year was a very complicated time for me and my partner. For different reasons, we both had to quit our jobs as employees in comfortable international companies…

This challenging situation gave birth to a secret wish to set up something myself, with my own values, my desires, transmit a part of my natural curiosity to customers and have fun and more creativity (I realized that I had lost these two essential parameters in work several years ago…).

Take risks, try new ideas, have a direct recognition of your work, I wanted it all!!!!

But above all, I love beautiful and inspiring things, different and respectful goods done with passion. I like to spend quality time (it is now a real challenge in our current society I think). And since I am a young literate girl, I looooove readings of all types.

Two or three steps later, sérendipité.ch was born!

A corner of independent and niche magazines selected with care and imported here in Switzerland from everywhere in the world, marketed through a website, a handle of beautiful boutiques and with my presence as a seller in design, vintage fairs or night markets…

The name (i.e. serendipity) is the art of making happy findings. It was the perfect definition of my life. Luck, chance, spontaneity and a methodical approach.

FC: What were the biggest challenges when you started your own business? What helped you a lot to overcome those?

The first challenge was to believe in my idea both on a sustainable and an economic point of view. It seems that I am this kind of ‘creative person’ but always created with a little bit of nothing, and sometimes a lack of perspective and commitment, I admit ;). I live from day to day and for this project, it was necessary to have a larger view, even if it is a niche market with a small and young unipersonal activity.

Surprisingly (from me), money was not the main problem, even if I know I could not have done it without the (almost) infinite support of my partner. He definitely was the most supportive person and pushed me to work on my first draw (it was not a business project at the beginning, but just a crazy side activity).

And you know, here in Switzerland, this is not the same mindset that you can see in the US. Switzerland is really conservative for entrepreneurship, not so helping.

Even if I used to work in totally different fields of activity, my soft skills, common sense and human experiences helped me manage daily new situations (request for interviews, new collaborations, administrative issues, promotion, stock management…).

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FC: Can you share some of the most amazing food crafts magazines or projects that you’re excited about?

If I have to choose just one magazine, it would be a nightmare for me. There are plenty of them and the quality gets better every day, issue after issue. I have to say that I am not a very good cook, even if I really appreciate fine food and gastronomy (I worked a couple of years at Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne) and love food, design and photography.

Back on topic, in my opinion the three most obvious mags are Gather (US), Kinfolk (US) and Cereal (UK). They are just essential, each issue is a phenomenon. But I like the little crazy side of The Carton (Lebanon) about food in the Middle East, Mood (BE) Music and Food, the very 1st issue of Special Request (UK) dedicated to ‘Food’ and Hot Rum Cow (UK) a quarterly about liquors and beverages. And because it is always a pleasure for me to deal with a magazine in French (all others are in English), I’d like to mention 180°C, which started in 2013…

For my future selection, I strongly consider some other ones, as Good Company and Lucky Peach, both from the US. I just realize that food magazines are more that a third of my selection!! This is a very important topic and inexhaustible it seems… :)

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FC: What proved to be the most effective method to grow your business and community? What didn’t work at all? In other words, what you wish you knew when you started and aspiring food crafters might try as well ;)

Oh! I am not sure to have the hindsight and the right answer. I am so young… ;). Ask me the same in a year if you want ;).

This is not a breaking news, but I did a fabulous promotion of sérendipité.ch with the social networks (at the beginning, it was impossible for me to pay for Facebook, but now I can say it is one of my favorite ads solution).

I believe in mixed markets as well, I mean the initial idea was to set up a retail business but not exclusively on the web. And it was not realistic to consider a shop and its fixed costs.

Moreover, I think you can maintain the contact with a newsletter or the social networks. You create a digital community. But your customers are not always these fans and it is important to be physically there for them.

Then, a couple of months ago, after thinking about how to be physically present without those expensive costs and keeping intact my freedom, I decided to try to open a small show-room in Lausanne where I am based (in a place called Plateforme Carbu  that we share with other independent workers, photographers, architects…). The show-room is open by appointment. People are free to come and read journals and magazines, to buy or not. It’s open and friendly… And it works. I have the chance to be on the way to the Ecole Cantonale d’Arts de Lausanne (ECAL) and sometimes, I am pleased to welcome students from there and discuss about design, layout, trends.

This place is my office as well and my storage solution for the moment.

I definitely like to work with ‘capillarity’ and opportunities… Either things are natural or they aren’t. Fighting against this is too energy-consuming for me. I work on instinct and spontaneity, structure comes, but after.

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FC: What’s next for you? Any secret future projects you’d like to share with our community?

I am currently preparing a secret thing for xmas… Foodies will have a little something to discover soon (preview for my newsletter subscribers in some days).

Furthermore, my little expansion will go through German speaking Swiss cities such as Zürich, Basel and Bern (where I am looking for nice partnerships with shops, cafés, barbers, etc.) and I hope to be ready to try the European market during the next year. I am already able to operate globally through my website, but the idea is to optimize customs matters (Switzerland is not part of the EU) and shipping fees to become advantageous for a French, a German or an English reader.

FC: A final tip for anyone who would love to start their own business but are too scared, shy, or don’t know how to start?

If you are too shy, probably it is not a model for you because there are lots of risks to start something from scratch without any reference or background and you need to live on with it and fight for you idea.

Before last year, this kind of project I heard from friends etc. (startups, entrepreneurship…) was just a completely different world for me.

My partner frequently uses the expression ‘momentum’. Believe in this word. There is a perfect moment for something and you have to listen to it and to catch it, if not, do not persist and move on.

Compare your ideas with others, with people from a totally different background and keep only 2-3 things to improve your project.

At the beginning, my biggest fear was that someone would catch my idea or has the same and develops it faster or stronger, with more means. But I gradually understood that you need to be so passionate and you must meet such a lot of criteria that it was pretty unlikely even if the risk will still be there and you’ll have to fight against forever! You need to constantly renew and create.

That is exactly what I love!

FC: Thank you Céline!

Thanks to you FC, I wish you the best with your own digital – but tasty – adventure ;)

[Most photos in this article are courtesy of Céline Debray]

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