The Big Interview: Artisan Coffee
It’s a love of coffee and a quest to continually learn, challenge and create – along with a huge amount of energy and determination – that drives Artisan’s success. From an initial idea, dreamt up in Africa, which was to give customers a laid back, friendly welcome – a more Aussie-café experience – while giving themselves much more than the usual 9am-5pm existence, with premium, delicious coffee at its core.
Magda and Edwin met at university in Perth. Magda was living in Australia (she’s from Poland originally) and after studying she “followed her Brit back to the UK” before they both gave up jobs – Magda’s in HR and Edwin’s in business development – to spend a year volunteering in Uganda for Lidefo (Liberty Development Foundation), a community-based organisation set up to ‘support practices that accelerate the progress of human development through training and education programmes’.
Magda’s task was to develop a school for adults, teaching skills from sewing to journalism, which on her arrival was just a make-shift, tarpaulin covered spot under a tree and ended up being a two-storey building with five classrooms – currently with 200 students. Edwin had been tasked with establishing beekeeping with the aim of providing an income for farmers through the sale of the honey. From reading a “beekeeping book for beginners on the outbound plane”, Magda explains, Edwin’s legacy is 300 beekeepers producing over a tonne of honey each year. Both of these projects succeeded through their own fundraising, finding experts to advise them and with a huge amount of hard work and grit.
So, in early 2011 when they arrived back in the UK, buzzing from all they had achieved in Africa, failure probably wasn’t something they would have even contemplated. “We wanted to set up our own business so that our successes were our successes, our challenges were our challenges. It was the hardest 10 months. We kept hitting walls. We’d find a site but because we didn’t have any trading history, the landlords rejected us. Eventually, this landlord [Putney] gave us a go and we opened in just two weeks,” recalls Magda.“We hired one professional builder and bribed family and friends to help us. We were the labourers. It was hard work but the best two weeks ever and we were on such a high by the opening.”
Keen not to be labelled as ‘the adorable couple with the coffee shop on the corner’, Edwin and Magda’s business plan included expansion to three sites. In 2013, Stamford Brook (between Chiswick and Hammersmith) opened with Edwin running the new site, leaving Magda to take care of Putney. Next came Ealing, where they decided to create something different. While the unexpected fourth, East Sheen – a “tiny shop that’s very sweet” opened alongside Ealing, as Magda puts it: “We were planning for a third child and ended up with a fourth!
“We’ve always been passionate about training our baristas so that they had the skills, the knowledge, the passion and the curiosity, so our third venture at Ealing was about establishing the school. We created it in the centre of the café so customers can sit there and see the training going on behind the glass, while inside, the students can see the hustle and bustle of the coffee shop,” explains Magda.
Last year, the Artisan Coffee School welcomed 1,400 students. While its ‘Home Brew Coffee Master Class’ is for consumers to ‘discover the secrets to making the perfect cup of coffee at home’, training is mostly trade-related. One of the courses, organised on a one-to-one basis, is on how to set up your own coffee shop and includes advice on what roasters to use, machines to buy, and so on. La Marzocco is their favoured machine “we think they have the best machines”, says Magda, adding that the school also serves as a resource for their own baristas. “All our staff go through the school.”
She continues: “We love allowing our team to move through the different stages. We have SCA [Specialty Coffee Association] accredited trainers, who have moved up through the business and now they can learn to become roasters.”
Curious Roo is the next, and current, big project for Artisan in what Magda describes as their continuous “cycle of learning”. Its name gives a nod towards their Aussie past and their never-ending curiosity about coffee.
With plans to roast and supply all their own shops, plus wholesale and retail, Curious Roo represents somewhere in the region of a £100,000 investment, self-funded, as Artisan has been throughout. Edwin continues to manage the business/finance side with Magda on HR and training. Magda explains: “Edwin is more macro, concentrating on the cash flow, P&L, strategic planning, etc, while I’m more micro, focusing on the team and HR. We have distinct, split roles, which works very well for us. After all, we’re a couple and it’s important we can get along.” They also have two young children, aged nine months and three years.
Magda constantly refers to the shops and the team as being like members of the family, the shops are their children, and her passion (like any mothers) to support and develop a thriving, happy family is intense and contagious. She bubbles over with enthusiasm and excitement about the business and for what’s coming next, and often refers to something the managing director of Allegra Jeffrey Young said: “Today’s extraordinary is tomorrow’s ordinary.” It’s clear that these words help fuel their drive and continuous search for innovation and to serve the customer’s ever-increasing expectations – while seeking ways to deliver them more efficiently. Cold Brew and Drip Coffee are two examples, with Drip Coffee taking up to eight minutes to prepare and serve they are looking at ways to make the extraordinary more cost-effective and streamlined, but still tasting extraordinarily good.
So, what began as a quest for a non-conventional life here in the UK is delivering the successes and challenges they sought. It may be more of 5am to 9pm existence, but with support and measures in place to maintain a good work-life balance, Magda and Edwin are living the dream.
- Magda Harrison is a member of the industry steering panel for European Coffee Expo www.EuropeanCoffeeExpo.com