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Big Interview: Press Coffee Roasters

10/10/2018
Big Interview: Press Coffee Roasters

Press Coffee Roasters is a small independent that’s seemingly punching well above its weight when it comes to location, branding and innovation.

Owned and run by ‘Andy and Dave’, this duo have created a steadily growing portfolio of stores, a recognisable brand and quality online presence. Seven sites will be operating by next spring at prestigious addresses across London, while in the pipeline are plans to open a basement ‘speakeasy’, grow its wholesale operation and find a new site for a roastery, head office, training, kitchen prep facility and more.

Andy Wells, who began his coffee career in Starbucks on Fleet Street, opened the first Press shop in 2011, also on Fleet Street, and is described as the business and operations guru in the partnership.

Genoese, speciality coffee lover Davide Pastorino - who cut his teeth at Grind, Brick Lane Coffee and Jo & The Juice in its early days before joining Andy in 2013 - has been pivotal in taking the coffee business forward. He’s always on the look-out for new ideas, innovations and unique propositions to make the business stand out.

“Dave,” Wells is keen to mention, “advertised himself as a barista back in the days when no-one was doing it.”

From baristas to barristers, Press has successfully made its name in London’s legal heartland of Chancery Lane and Fleet Street (once home too to every major newspaper), with top-notch barrister firm 39 Essex Chambers’ landlords to Press’ 81 Chancery Lane store.

“We’ve been lucky to have done some really good deals,” says Wells. “For instance, we got Chancery Lane on a year’s ‘rent free’. Essex Chambers [barristers] wanted to create what was ‘their own’ coffee shop frontage and we worked with them.”

The shop, which benefits from a beautiful bow-fronted window, is branded Press and is frequented in the main by smartly dressed men in expensive-looking suits. Press also operates a second site nearby, inside ‘a large creative’s headquarters’, which is positioned as an in-house quality, coffee offering.

Along with the Fleet Street and Chancery Lane operations, there’s also Saint Bride’s, which opened in 2016 and has the distinct advantage (having just experienced the hottest summer on record) of having bi-fold doors opening onto a pedestrianised area on what just happens to be on the doorstep of investment giant Goldman Sachs.

Other sites - currently being fitted out - are Fulham and Victoria Station Markets, with Oxford Street set to open in the spring.

Rich pickings indeed for a quality, speciality coffee offer that offers a range of pastries and premium cold drinks, including Press’s very own Cold Brew, produced in collaboration with a small business in Tottenham, north London.

Plenty of opportunities to stretch price elasticity, you’d think. But Pastorino explains: “There’s lots of corporate chains around here so there’s not the opportunity you might think.

“Back in 2012-13, when we got together, there were only 50 coffee shops in London but now there’s got to be more than 700, so in terms of price, we have got to keep reasonable. Our 12oz latte is £3.50 while our flat white is £2.80.”

Wells continues: “We know that running a chain of coffee shops like ours isn’t going to make us the millions to go and buy the big house in the country. But what we want to do is to create an offer that is respected – great coffee done fast!”

The partners have resisted offers to sell all or part of the business and remain proudly independent and self-financed.

Wells explains: “We’ve had offers but we don’t want to be giving away equity just to borrow money. Our ethos is, if we need £100k, then we can take a loan out. We like the fact we’re only accountable to ourselves, each other and our families. We don’t see this as a lifestyle, but as a business that we want to run selfishly and do what we want. We don’t want a big investor changing the way we work.”

Pastorino adds: “We’ve created a chain of seven shops in seven years, which really isn’t bad. We don’t like the thought of working for a bigger company who will push us to open 50 shops. We only open the next site when we feel ready for it.

“Instead, we are very focused on creating a brand, something that is recognisable. We want to produce something stylish and cool, bringing quality and lifestyle together. We make a point of having cool, young people working in our stores to create the right vibe.”

In their constant search for the next trend and innovation, the Press team is always on the look-out for new partnerships and collaborations with other small, independent businesses to create something innovative and different, preferring always to keep it niche.

They linked up with Vita Coco in its early years, but as it got big, they switched to another smaller company.

Their cold brew collaboration has worked well over the hot summer, plus they have a range of chilled drinks and the inspirational CanO Water, spring water in a resealable can – a great innovation that gets water out of single use plastic. Press plans to have all its packaging 100% green and biodegrable by the end of the year.

The coffee packaging has just been updated and rebranded and now comes in bags perfectly proportioned to fit through a customer’s letter box.

Bigger initiatives include creating a ‘speakeasy’ in the basement of Fleet Street, while a new location is being sought which will take them out of their ‘St Paul’s bunker’, which acts as storage for green beans, office and training facility, into a new phase of expansion which will include a roastery.

Press is currently part of Tate Coffee’s slot roasting collective.

Growing the wholesale side of the business is something Wells is keen to progress and, depending on what happens with the ‘B-word’, may become the focus for future growth.

“Finding great people for our shops isn’t easy and depending on what happens with Brexit, it may be that we focus on the wholesale rather than the retail side of the business, just because of the issues with staffing.

“Who knows what’s going to happen! We may strike a deal with Costa Rica and be able to recruit from there. We just don’t know. Recruitment today is the worst I’ve known it in 15 years and it’s a massive worry,” says Wells.

To help retain good staff, Press likes to promote from within, and has recently offered incentives to two key personnel, head of coffee Simone Dessi and general manager Emanuele Cossario, who have both been given a stake in the business.

Away from the UK, Pastorino talks about opportunities to open coffee shops aboard, with New York, Tokyo and Dubai mentioned.

“I’m from Italy and so I don’t feel tied to the UK, I feel we can go anywhere… we’ve already been approached about a franchise operation in Dubai.”

Green beans are also high on the agenda, with recent trips to Columbia and investigations into microlots in Vietnam and Malawi. There’s attention on sustainability and ethical sourcing, working as much as possible with the farmers and communities.

From green beans from emerging coffee markets to a new store on Oxford Street. There’s much going on at Press – all being driven by a hunger to be original, be creative and be known for serving customers in its highly enviable locations with great coffee.

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