Pritchard + Ure

Sustainable Vegeterian and Vegan Cafe

Should those bloody hipsters rule the world?

Quick Disclaimer. Views my own. There. Done.

A decade is a long time and the one I have just spent in the food and drink industry has been very interesting. I have seen the speciality (I dislike this word but use it to set the scene) food, coffee and drink scene come into its own with such verve and from what was very humble beginnings, that I can hardly keep up. And yet as exciting as I find it, every now and again I hear little rumbles of discontent that irk me slightly.

So why so exciting?

Because I am a hipster? I don’t think so. Too old for that.

Because I am a pretentious so and so? I’d like to think not.

Because I am a snob? Have you met me?

Because I am a foodie? What’s that?

No, because I get it. I totally get it.

You see it is not about being rich or snobby or pretentious. Or hip or cool. It’s about good food and coffee, and more so food and drink, that is fair and untainted.  Where people and animals involved in its production treated fairly, the earth it’s grown in and on treated with respect, people and land on one side of the world not mistreated for the financial gain of others elsewhere. And it is about taste and goodness. Do you get the butterscotch finish and ripe fruit in your natural processed coffee? The notes of caramel and burnt sugar in your hand crafted beer? The artichoke and almond in your cold pressed olive oil? No probably not, I dont always. But again that is not the whole point. The point is it tastes good. It tastes clean and not bland. It has flavour, it's not full of chemicals or bulkers, meat not full of water, veg not full of pesticides, chicken not full of disease(yes over 70% of chicken is diseased). It’s about not risking our future health for financial gain today. It’s about not externalising costs.

These bloody hipsters, pretentious so and sos, food snobs etc are doing something they love. Something they believe in and are passionate about. They support other people who do the same. Often they are paying higher wages to their staff, taking on staff that may have lacked opportunity, taking on shops in run down areas. This is a good thing albeit not perfect. Railway arches, shipping containers, all a bit trendy? A bit pretentious again? How about making use of derelict buildings, reviving unused areas, bringing life to forgotten communities. But the rents go up? That’s not their fault. They often suffer too at the hands of greedy landlords.

I have met many of these people over the last decade and I have personally invested much time and money in the very same cause. And I can say for sure that we care. We care about people, communities, animal welfare, the environment, issues such as low wages, inequality, poverty, people welfare.

We do what we do for a bigger purpose than profit alone. We buy free range meats, organic veg, organic dairy, good cheeses, bread that is made of only four ingredients. Strange huh? We do all this is because we think it is right. Our suppliers go off and visit coffee farms all over the world, tea plantations and so on to see where their product comes from, how the people working them are being treated, to make sure that the farmers and workers are the ones that benefit. They taste and cup away until they find what they think is right for us and our customers. They pay more. They care.

And so to the final product, the final place. Yes it costs more. Why shouldn’t it? More is paid for the ingredient, much more in most cases. Often higher wages are paid. And yes the places have their own unique style, they’re a little different. The staff may look a little different, act a little different, service may not be as you may have been used to elsewhere. But this is because they do have a different style and different personalities and these are being allowed to come through. One of the reasons that I got into this when I did was because of an apathy towards casual food places and coffee shops; places I did not enjoy using because of bland food and drink that yes may have appeared cheap but for me was poor value if I did not enjoy it. And places with no soul, staff with no enthusiasm and fake corporate hospitality or (in the case of independents) quite often damn right rudeness and I am sorry to say even more bland and badly made products.

And let's not forget the small scale that these guys operate on. The amount of new bakeries, new coffee shops, micro breweries, casual dining restaurants, neighbourhood bistros. This can be no bad thing. Apart from creating jobs it creates life and excitement in otherwise forgotten areas and engages staff to go and do the same, people to achieve more and go on and follow their dreams and take on more people, and so on.

Are we perfect? Are we hell. But who is?

We get things wrong. I personally do not think we are inclusive enough. I think we need to reach out further, to more people and in different ways. To our communities more. And this is happening. Approach us with an open mind. And please understand that we have to sell ourselves. That’s part of why we describe what we do the way we do, look the way we look. We are trying to differentiate ourselves from the bland uniformity so prevalent elsewhere.  We have found new products and appreciate foods differently maybe, but truthfully. And we want as many people as possible to experience the same and that’s why we are here. To be as inclusive as possible. If you don’t feel welcome then tell us so we can improve. Because as much as anything else we love people and we want to share what we have learnt with as many people as possible so that as pretentious as it may sound we can create a better world.

So for me I say let every railway arch be filled with a bakery, every derelict warehouse with a micro brewery and every high street with a free range butcher, sustainable fishmonger, organic greengrocer and artisan cafe because in the end we will be better for it, hipster or no hipster.


 

Giving People a Chance

 

Longer ago than I care to remember I was fortunate to spend a couple of years working with Charles Manning. Semi retired from from heading a major oil company in Sweden he was looking for a less stressful role. He took the lead of a new air conditioning company that I had recently become involved with in a sales role. Charles felt that this was not the best role for me and swiftly created a head of marketing position and handed it to me along with a not insignificant budget. I had no experience but he had the belief that I had what it took to do it. Within a short space of time I had developed a marketing plan, undertook a complete re branding exercise and organised a series of national sales events.

He employed Carl as sales manager. Carl had no experience of sales. He was in his early 40’s and had spent 25 years “on the tools” as he called it. He needed a break but with no sales or similar experience he was getting nowhere. Charles took a gamble that someone who had spent all his working life with contractors could maybe sell to them in a different way than a sharp tongued, suited salesman so prominent in the industry. The rest could be taught. In return for me showing Carl a new way of working Carl would teach me the technical side of our business. He finished the team with a sales office manager and a marketing assistant.  Within 1 year our turnover was over a million with a healthy profit and a national customer base.  Essentially he gave us all a chance. I had no experience of marketing other than studying it as part of a business degree. Carl had never sold anything in his life. None of us knew very much about our market at the start. But we learnt because of Charles, his vision, his belief in himself and his team.

Six months ago I met Marina. She had arrived in England following a few years studying in Boston. She had no experience of working with food or drink and had not worked very much having left Greece at 18. I had every reason not to offer an opportunity to Marina given the pressure I was under to find staff and hit the ground running with the cafe due to open within weeks. But yet I felt she had something the others I had spoken to didn’t despite them having more obvious skills and experience. I remembered Charles. I offered her the opportunity. Five months on she is still with us and the only one left from the original bunch. She has a lot to learn about specialty food and coffee and everything else we want to achieve. But in a relatively short space time (I have been around the specialty scene for almost a decade and still have so much to learn) she has taken on board so much. Last week I proudly watched her tweak away at the grinder settings, timers and scales at the ready, trying to perfect some Old Spike Roastery coffee for aeropress. This is a girl that did not drink coffee 5 months ago. In the kitchen, which is her main role, she carefully puts together with love and care a simple but well crafted menu as if she was after her first star. And for me, more importantly, she has bought into the concept of what we are trying to achieve and helps execute it every time. How long she will stay for I don’t know but I do know that this opportunity will help her grow and me and the business I steer are the better for it too.

Recently I have come across several new social enterprises / conscious businesses that are combining either cafes or coffee roasting along with the aim of specifically providing opportunity for employment and training to homeless or other people, often young, that for one reason or another have not had the best start in life or have been lacking opportunity. I am sure there are others but the ones I have come across so far are Old Spike Roastery in Peckham, a coffee roaster and coffee shop employing and training homeless people. Second Shot Coffee opening in East London with the same aim. Well Grounded who provide training to mainly young people with the aim of getting them into the specialty coffee industry and finally We Walk the Line, again a training and entrepreneur organisation for young people aiming to set them up with their own coffee trike business. A great idea.

These ideas really excite me. For several years I have felt the opportunity to combine ethically driven, specialty food and coffee businesses with potentially very gifted, creative and enthusiastic youngsters is worth pursuing. I love this industry niche and whilst there are many challenges ahead not least with pay, sustainability and ethics it is an incredibly exciting industry for the right people and great for enthusing otherwise disenfranchised people.  Good luck to them all and may there be many more.

In a separate rant I will talk about the organisation I work for and how they have been doing a similar thing in garden centre retail for over 30 years. More importantly how we hope to combine that with a similar concept at Pritchard + Ure.  And maybe sooner than I expected. Watch this space.