7 mins read

Over a Brew with… Southpaw Coffee

This week we had the absolute pleasure of chatting to @southpawcoffeelondon co-owner Orlando.

Having opened the store in late 2018 with his wife, they have created a cultural hub in a communalistic pocket in North London. Having provided a valuable delivery service during lockdown, the two have cemented themselves with a team of creatives to execute some of the best coffee you’ll find in London ☕️

The chat sparked some amazing insights into starting an independent coffee business and all of the different plates you have to spin in order to succeed ????

When did you first start to get into coffee?

My wife Charlotte and I were both actors, we were in-between jobs and I was working at this coffee shop pop-up in Hackney Wick called Routes. They were predominantly event coffee guys, they would do music festivals and I just generally got along with them really well. One day when I was buying my coffee, they asked if I wanted to make it, I said yes and after training me up they asked me to work for them. I had some spare time, and had always been very passionate about coffee, so I thought why not! 

At the end of the summer they decided to close the pop-up and move to Oxford and start roasting coffee. It was a shame because I was really enjoying learning the ins-and-outs of running a coffee shop. It was a great way to develop my skills and start to understand how to run a business like that. I owe those guys everything for their initial generosity and energy! That’s how I dipped my toe in the water. 

Not wanting to let it go, my next idea was to get a little truck and park it outside Hackney Wick Station, so that between acting jobs I could do something for myself. I’d had nearly a decade of hospitality experience by this point and knew I wanted to be my own boss! But before the truck idea even kicked off, the space which eventually became Southpaw jumped up and grabbed our attention! It was a big leap, but we decided to take it. 

When we first took the place it was an unknown entity, it was a bit under the radar and I think it used to be a lettings agency. As with the proposal of the coffee truck, this was going to be a small solo operation with me serving coffees, selling some pastries, but almost immediately it grew into something with its own momentum. It was clear that I couldn’t do it on my own. Charlotte and I, when we first opened, were working 7 days a week for around 4 or 5 months before we hired anyone. We now have a team of about 8 and we’ve never looked back. 

When did Southpaw Coffee officially open? 

We got the keys to the property late in 2018 and opened up in January 2019. We had about a year before the pandemic hit and we were just building the local customer base and finding our feet. We had to pivot with the events of the pandemic, we had good connections with our fresh produce providers so we realised that we could plug the gap left by the supermarkets and the food source disruptions.

I put my number on the closed up shopfront for a few weeks so we could provide veg boxes for the local community… my god the phone did not stop ringing! We were in lockdown, with a new baby, and our living room became Southpaw HQ, it was so overwhelming, I quickly built a website in order to deal with the volume of orders. We were making and delivering about 400 boxes a week – just Charlotte and I – we even ended up buying a van to cope and I essentially became a delivery driver. What a way to spend the lockdown, it was scary but somewhat liberating too! Knowing we were providing such a key service and it kept us afloat. 

We did that for a couple of months, then when things started to open up a bit more, it did become a bit vague with the public health guidelines but we made the decision to reopen the shop for takeaway; we bubbled with our staff and there were queues around the block! 

Check out the website here! 

Why do you think there is such an appetite for speciality coffee in the area? 

Well it’s very residential, it’s a bit of a crossover of many different areas. There’re a lot of students around here, creative people, as well as families and businesses – it’s a real neighbourhood spot more than anything else and it’s been really nice getting to know the community, it’s something we’re really involved with, and we are very proud to be a centrepiece for that community.

Are you still able to make time for acting?

I am still an actor, and although Southpaw has become such a huge part of my life, I’m a bit greedy in that I’ve decided to keep two passions!

How did you find it integrating into the community and how organic was your outreach?

It was very organic, I actually asked all of my actor mates to leaflet the surrounding area when we first arrived. Word of mouth took over. Instagram really helped, but that was also organic – I would say most of our followers are actually real customers. It’s a really good tool to reach them directly, for us social media isn’t the be all and end all, for example if we were to get rid of Instagram we’d still have customers coming through the door, but it is a crucial communication tool. 

We always had the idea of this being a family run place, we employ creative people who have other interests so it’s always a supporting place for us and the staff. It’s never been about making loads of money and having a massive empire (well, never say never!) It’s about providing a quality service, quality product, and making a good honest living for ourselves. 

How is summer looking for you guys? 

So we are looking to really up our food game. We want to do some more pop-ups and some night time stuff. We had a lot of fun doing Southpaw Social winebar nights and they went really well, we’d love to make that more of a regular thing. I’m currently in training at Leith’s Culinary school and I can’t wait to put those skills into practice. 

I’d also love to take a lot of our business online in terms of pantry items, merch, and wholesaling our own brand of products, we make our own cocktails and bottle them so it would be great to push that side of things more!

As an independent business owner, what have been some of the challenges you’ve faced? 

I would say there’s definitely a few hidden challenges for sure, it’s really important to come at it from a place of passion. I did not go to business school and I had to learn all that side of things pretty early on, in real time. We met this guardian angel, RJ, who very early on gave

us the gift of his financial expertise before he started a new job advising Fortune 500 companies. He basically tightened the screws of the business. He really made us interrogate all those behind-the-scenes things you just don’t focus on when you’re trying to get off the ground. 

I would suggest starting small, setting your sights to attainable goals and literally considering your bottom line. Very basically, how many coffees do you need to sell a day to break even? Anything beyond that is up to your creativity. 

Give me two important points you think a ‘good’ coffee shop relies on.

I think design is so important, the comfort of a place. You want somewhere that people can relax in and socialise. But also it has to be highly functional. We did start quite minimally, but necessity required we start filling the space with produce; what the customer wants, the customer gets. 

I also think having bright, friendly and engaging staff is key. They’re the face of the business and need to represent your values. The guys that work here are amazing and have even forged friendships with some customers and hang out outside Southpaw. That’s really nice to see. People really do get to know their barista; and it can be the everyday, small interactions that add up to a lot of meaning in life. 

As a side note; I like to see a good bit of kit, if you’re making banging coffee, you need the materials to do so. 

Where did the name come from? 

It’s a bit of a mythical story, my Dad was an amateur boxer when he was growing up. My sister and I have always boxed on and off but I’m the only person in the family who is right-handed so they would call me southpaw as a bit of a joke. When we were thinking of a name being impactful, it worked perfectly. Southpaw Coffee – it packs a punch.

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