The perfect blend; The Gentlemen Baristas fuel shoppers at ICON Outlet
Four and half years ago, Ed Parkes and Henry Ayers, were budding entrepreneurs with a simple vision: to open a coffee house focused on great coffee and great service. Now, with their sixth open at ICON Outlet this autumn, the remarkable rise of The Gentleman Baristas is showing no sign of letting up.
Ed and Henry met, fittingly, at the London Coffee Festival. Henry was a supplier to the festival, and Ed, an aspiring actor and talented Barista. They hit it off, began working together, and alongside their day jobs began hatching their plan to revolutionise London’s coffee scene.
We met Ed at their original branch in Coffee House, on Union Street, Southwark. The interior is simple, rustic and welcoming; perfectly reflecting the company’s values. We posed a few questions to Ed, to find out more about their humble beginnings, and what we can expect from The Gentlemen Baristas at ICON Outlet.
What was the inspiration for The Gentlemen Baristas?
“Having both come from backgrounds in hospitality, we were aware that the world of specialty coffee had become a bit snobbish. We wanted to create an amazing product that anyone can enjoy, and an environment that encourages rich experiences and great conversation.
How did you get started?
“We had £20,000 of savings between us, so it was a lean start-up operation. We visited only one potential site, which is the one we’re sat in now. It was in a building, which was formerly a coffee house, and it just felt right. So we signed the lease straight away and we set ourselves the goal of opening our doors within 7 days.
“The name came from a genuine desire to return our customers to a better era of shop keeping. It’s about the sentiment of good manners and behaving gentlemanly. Our tagline reflects that too; well-mannered coffee. It doesn’t really make sense, but it means different things to different people and that’s great.”
How did you know you were onto a winning formula?
“We didn’t at first. It was a slow burner. On day one we made signs saying free coffee, but no one came. We literally had to walk the streets with cups of it to convince people that it was actually free.
“Finally some parents from a local school came in, and they loved it. They wanted to pay, but we literally couldn’t take payment because our till wasn’t wired up.
“It’s built organically from there. People came in and loved it, and told their friends and their colleagues. “
With specialty coffee booming in the capital, what has been the key to your success?
“Great service, from great staff and of course, great coffee.
“Our service focus is such an important part of our business. Coffee is sociable. We wanted not only to facilitate that, but to be a part of it, and we encourage all of our staff to get to know the customers. We have some real characters, and some more understated members of the team, all of whom play a part in making the customer feel relaxed. Four years on we still have the same core team who started the business
“The coffee is a clear focus too. We have great direct relationships with the farmers, which means we have more control over the product they grow, and they’re more committed to creating a really top quality product.
“If you take it right back to the journey the coffee makes from it’s beginnings, the growing, picking, grading and sorting, right through to shipment to the UK, every single element of that process has a zillion different variables, any of which, if handled wrong, will negatively affect the flavour. Once the coffee arrives here, it’s our responsibility to roast the beans perfectly, grind them and create the delicious coffee we do. If we screw up our part, we have let down this entire chain of events that has lead to this moment, and we take that responsibility seriously.”
What are your plans for your store at ICON Outlet?
“ICON Outlet is a really exciting new challenge for us. Whilst we’re used to historic properties, and local community audiences, here we’re working with a modern space and an occasional audience. We’re excited to create a traditional London coffeehouse in a fast paced shopping centre.
“We look around lots of shopping centres and we see transactional food and beverage outlets with no real personality or sense of community, and that’s what we’re excited to bring. .
“Alongside coffee, we’ll be serving brunch and lunch menus, focused on simple and delicious locally sourced foods, and we bake all of our own breads and pastries.”
A relatively small company still, it’s clear you have big ambitions. What’s next?
“We hope to open another 6 stores in London by next summer, and we’ll see where it goes from there. We’re considering opportunities to expand in to other UK cities or internationally.”
The Gentlemen Baristas look forward to giving you a warm and very well-mannered welcome at ICON Outlet soon.