Big Interview: The Gentlemen Baristas
October is set to be a momentous month for The Gentlemen Baristas, the London-based independent coffee shop chain and ‘wholesaler of coffee, tea, cocoa and spices’, with two new store openings and its entry into the world of roasting.
Ben Arthur – with 11 years’ roasting experience – is already on board and heading up the new roasting operation under the railway arches in Shadwell, East London, and will be creating coffee for The GBs rapidly growing portfolios of wholesale customers along with its own, soon-to-be six, sites.
The roastery represents a considerable investment for The GBs and comes equipped with a 12kgs Probat roaster.
With the roastery set to open early next month, the new sites will follow. Shop number five will be unveiled within the exciting new London O2 development, which will deliver a mix of retail, office and, of course, entertainment and is promising to rival the shopping experiences at Westfield and Stratford centres. While later in October, The GBs will cut the ribbon on what’s to be its biggest (275sq m) and ‘showcase’ store, right in the heart of Republic’s new development at East India Docks (CBW, August 22).
Expansion won’t end there, as Henry Ayers, who established the business with his partner Ed Parkes in June 2014, revealed to Coffee Business World (CBW August 22), with 2019 heralding a further six sites, two apiece in spring, summer and autumn.
The team too is being expanded, along with head roaster Ben Arthur, The GBs has brought on board an operations manager, Ben Newton, who joined the business earlier this year.
“So many independents are opening new shops, but you can’t expand successfully without a good team. And success for an independent isn’t just about having an amazing barista – it’s about the personalities. We’re growing a team of like-minded people who will help develop and expand our business.”
Ayers also reveals that away from the shop floor, other work includes new packaging designs for all 13 coffee roasts, which include guest seasonals and limited editions.
New product packaging
Cleaner designs with better signposting and use of colour to highlight key messages to help the consumer perusing the shelves instore - or shopping online - are integral to the new look.
The GBs, explains Ayers, will also be launching a new online shopping experience for customers soon, called The Growler Club, it’s a nod to the US-phenomenon of taking a glass or ceramic jar to be filled with draught beer at the local store.
With just shy of 9,000 followers on Instagram, The GBs will be exercising its might on social media – ‘@The GBswhatwhat’ - and will be promoting the new offers, shops and roastery to eager fans. “Instagram,” acknowledges Ayers, “is huge for us.”
But while online is crucial, the company remains a devotee of human interaction.
With its talk of ‘well-mannered coffee’, there’s a serious message underlying this somewhat quirky designation. From the quintessentially English Ayers, always smartly attired and looking every inch the perfect gent, to the fabulous curly moustache that is iconically Gentlemen Baristas – great customer service is key. And it begins with eye-contact.
“What we offer has to be about great customer service, eye-contact and engagement – we want to make a difference to someone’s day,” says Ayers. “I’ve heard Australian’s refer to a Flat White as a ‘cup of happiness’ – that’s what we want to do. Give someone a cup of happiness!”
Training is key to this and The GBs likes to grow its teams from within, through great training and succession planning. Matilda Eriksson was the “first GB” employee, as Ayers introduces her, and is still working in the business four years on as manager of GB’s ‘The School House’ site in Jerwood Space in Union Street.
Happy relationships also extend to its suppliers, which includes, Bristol-roasters’ Wogan Coffee.
“We like working with Wogan, which has created a range of coffees for us that are, for example, good brews for filter or espresso. We like the way they work: they allow us to get involved and together we create new roasts, by saying ‘let’s try a handful of this or that’ to create a specific product for us.”
At this point, Ayers hits out at what he calls the ‘baristocracy’ operating within the coffee world, which, he says, sees coffee shop owners dictated to by roasters.
“When we were first looking for a roaster, we found that they were specifying what machines we could and couldn’t use if we were to buy their coffee. That’s not the way it should be. When working with a supplier, we want someone who is asking ‘how can we help you’.”
Alongside Wogan, another case in point is CHASH, which delivers The GBs loose leaf teas from around the world. And when it comes to milk, its oat milk is from Minor Figures while dairy milk is from The Estate Dairy, purveyors of the best quality barista milk, says Ayers.
“Estate Dairy’s founder, Shaun, is a former barista and uses milk from Guernsey cows, which has a higher fat content. We were one of his first customers. One of the problems you get with milk is that any changes to the fat molecules, for instance, when cows are moved indoors from outside pastures, affects the fat content and the quality.”
Estate Dairy, he adds, not only delivers its fresh milk each morning, but also helpfully drops off the Minor Figures’ oat milk!
Great relationships such as these established by The GBs are the backbone of any successful business, and never more important when expanding. For now they’re happy to keep expansion to London, with plans to expand further afield to be revealed in due course. It’s apparent that the busy October is set to precede an even busier 12-months and beyond.
- Henry Ayers is a member of the European Coffee Expo Steering Panel.
- European Coffee Expo will take place on May 21-22 at London’s Olympia.
- To find out more about booking a stand, click here.
- Or to register as a visitor, click here.
Photos: top right Henry Ayers; Middle inside Park Street; The School House