We spoke with Ben from Elwin Coffee, located in the bustling setting of central London on 13 Great Russell Street. Having only been set-up for a number of weeks, we wanted to showcase what Ben has done so far, share his story and take a deeper dive into what makes Elwin Coffee the place to be.
We’ve tested the coffee here and Ben’s not lying when he says it’s amazing. This local independent is a fantastic addition to the London coffee scene. Supporting local businesses and products, and scope to showcase local photography and art – Elwin Coffee is a must if you happen to be in the area.
‘The name is an amalgamation of my two kids’ names, Ella and Winston. I thought it’s different and I liked the fact that my kids could be a part of it.
So we started around 6 weeks ago, 8th May, things started slightly slower than expected but it has started to boom in the last couple of weeks. Originally, I thought it would be more of a tourist attraction due to the area, but what’s been nice is that it’s been a mix of consumers, the area’s great with local businesses and there has been some nice organic growth. There’s loads of universities around so it’s been great getting the students in as well.’
‘To be honest it was on a bit of a whim, I used to have a place in Hackney called Healthy Stuff which opened in 2011, it was a health store with a cafe inside, owned by myself and my partner. Although, I found I’ve always been better with the cafe side of things. We sold it in October 2020, as the pandemic kicked in. It was actually doing quite well, we held off the sale for a while because it started to become really busy during the lockdown period where everyone was trying to support local businesses.
I’ve also worked for a mates food delivery business, whilst doing that it really started to open up London for me. Being on a bike a lot made me realise central London is great and made London feel a bit smaller. I didn’t think I’d leave Hackney because I know it well and feel comfortable there, but actually the rest of London is alright. Central London has a lot of space for independent places. Generally it’s harder to survive here and the rent is higher, but there was an opportunity during the pandemic which lowered rent slightly.
At first I thought, what have I done! But as the negotiations for the lease were going on, I realised it wasn’t that bad of an idea.’
‘I was at an Extinction Rebellion march with my kids funnily enough, the march went from Piccadilly to Oxford Circus last summer. The kids were getting bored and the police were starting to get a bit aggressive so we headed back, but then that evening I felt like I needed to force myself to the last march. I flew past the premises on my bike, slammed on my brakes and took a few photos – very spontaneous. I got in contact with the owners, put together a nice presentation and they were sold on it. The landlords are nice and they want the shop to work.
There are really good independent coffee shops around, but it’s not as dense as Hackney and it’s such a great location. I saw an opportunity and wanted to take it. It had been a year since selling and I was itching to get something going.’
‘The aesthetic is generally just my taste, it’s just like my home. I did find there was a certain aesthetic for independent coffee shops, so I tried to break away from that, so you can serve really good coffee and have that at the forefront. You don’t have to follow the crowd, but at the same time you do need to make it look like you sell really good coffee. For example the hanging lights in the window. I think there is enough of the aesthetic that people know we sell good coffee. I’d be open to selling speciality coffee gear to help show people what we do – if it sells then yeah fair enough, but we’re starting to get a really good reputation for selling good coffee without having too many added extras.’
‘Yeah definitely, I love photography and so the idea was always to have nice photos all over the walls. I might look into getting in contact with local students to showcase their work – I would like the photos to rotate and change, and definitely want to collaborate with interesting photographers, potentially have them up for sale as well.
The pictures on the walls at the moment were done by a mate of mine, we were just flicking through his phone and chose our favorites, got them printed and there were go. I’m currently speaking to a friend at the moment who’s really talented, we may get a load printed and sell them off rolled up in-store, but yeah the possibilities are endless.’
‘Most definitely, music plays a huge part for both myself and the store. I mainly have House and Hip Hop on, I control the playlists at the moment and have been honing them down over the last few years. We also play a lot of NTS Radio, it’s a great way of discovering new music. There may be an opportunity down the line to broadcast a show in store, I could potentially be doing a set and I have a great Detroit House set ready to go.
So yeah, music is really important, and I want it to always always be good music. It’s not that hard to do, but it is really noticeable. Music adds to the whole aesthetic and brings it all together, the great thing with NTS Radio is that you can discover so much new music.’
‘The coffee beans are from Ozone Coffee Roasters, they’re really good and supportive. Based in Hackney so nice and local. The coffee is great and generally they’re really professional which is great for a new store like mine, if I need anything from them they’ll always be at the end of the phone. If you’re going to be buying from them all the time, you need that.
For pastries I’m with Rockstar Bakers, these guys know how to make an almond croissant. We’ve started doing grilled ham and cheese which is going down really well, ciabattas and focaccias are starting to get rolled out as well. This being said, I want to find really good partners for our produce because I want my baristas to be just that, a barista and focus on the coffee.’
‘Before opening this place, I was just a straight espresso man. But as we were opening, I knew oat flat whites were in high demand and it was my competitor’s biggest seller. Therefore, I thought I’d start trying them. Espressos are great, you can judge the coffee by them, but they are over pretty quickly. In some ways, as I only have 2 coffees a day, I was starting to feel a bit hard done by with them. For that reason, I’m now an oat flat white guy – they last longer and ours taste great. It’s made with Ozone Hodson Blend which tastes amazing.’
Photography and writing by Curtis Connor