Brunch cafe offers flat whites and space to work at London Dock’s Gaughing Square
“Oat flat white,” is Huw Wardrope’s instant response when asked his preferred coffee order. It’s not a surprise.
The Australian co-founded Urban Baristas in response to the disappointing cafe scene in London that he and his mate from uni in Sydney – Jono Bowman – endured while working in the finance industry.
The plan was to recreate a bit of Aussie hospitality and, crucially, quality, on this side of the world – and it all started in Bounds Green.
“In 2016 it was very difficult to find retail units from landlords who were willing to give space as a startup,” said Huw, who worked for Canary Wharf-based firms HSBC and BGC Partners.
“I had a business plan and everything – I was sending it out to people. But they wanted Caffe Nero or Pret.
“Then TfL said they had a site in Bounds Green – to be honest I didn’t even know where that was.
“But we went up there and said: ‘Let’s do it’. From day one it was a massive success.
“There was a line out of the door – people were saying that we’d increased their house prices.
“Then we knew we had a good product and that we were onto something.”
Today things are a little easier on the real estate front.
Urban Baristas recently opened its latest branch in Wapping’s Gaughing Square – part of property developer St George’s London Dock scheme.
It’s the brand’s 12th location – and also the largest – offering brunch, coffee and even a training space for enthusiasts keen to sharpen their brewing skills or to help staff to develop professionally.
“We’ve expanded over the years and we moved to the Wapping area partly because I live locally,” said Huw, who left finance to open three 24-hour gyms, before co-founding Urban Baristas.
“We have a kiosk at Wapping station, a branch on Wapping High Street, one at Devon House in St Katherine’s Way and one at Thomas More Square.
“It makes things easy operationally when we can move people around the different sites. Growing a brand is also easier if you’re focused in one area.
“The kiosk model is a good one because the staff costs are low and it’s easy to manage – it’s just coffee and pastries.
“When we opened at Wapping High Street we decided to add a bit more of an Aussie vibe with smashed avos for brunch and things like that on the menu.
“We’ve now decided to focus our food operation at London Dock because it’s a bigger space – 2,000sq ft.
“When you’re talking about that kind of size, I think you have to offer a little bit more than just coffee and pastries.”
Specifically, that means customers at the newly opened branch can expect the likes of Eggs Benedict (from £12.50), a Full Aussie (£14.50), Parmesan Folded Eggs (£10.95) or Green Goodness – a melange of kale, peas, broccoli, avocado and micro herbs – for £12.50.
There’s also an Avo Bar, offering three types of the ubiquitous bashed up toast topping to choose from, starting at £10.95.
“People will find what we think is the best flat white in London when they visit – it’s a happy place to come and chill out with your friends or maybe work a bit,” said Huw.
“We offer people a little bit of happiness in their day. It’s a tough time at the moment, especially with the economy and the cost of living crisis – but you can still go out and grab a coffee with a mate and have a catch up.
“Our house espresso is from Brazil – which is also where my wife is from.
“I’m lucky because I get to go out quite a bit and source the beans, meet the farmers and check the working conditions to ensure they are producing ethically.
“I’ve just booked a trip in February for two months.
“We also have a rotating series of coffees for the filters and the V60 Drippers – we have some Colombians and Guatemalans, but they rotate due to the seasons.
“We make sure we buy really special coffees from smaller producers.
“Brazil is the biggest coffee producing nation in the world and, for our shops, we need a steady supply.”
Urban Baristas’ latest branch is about more than just eating and drinking, however. It’s also about education.
Huw said: “The Coffee Lab is a new addition to the brand. I’ve always wanted to have a place to train staff.
“This is the biggest space we’ve taken and I was looking at the design and thinking about what to do with it.
“We hosted our first course just last week and we’re getting quite a bit of interest already – especially from corporates.
“I think companies are looking for alternatives to the pub.
“Not everyone drinks, organisations are looking for activities to do with their teams and I think it’s going to be a good place for that.
“We also have more than 70 staff who constantly need training on our different coffees.
“Eventually we want to be recognised by the SCA – the governing body for the speciality coffee industry – to give professional level classes for clients and our staff as part of their development.
“We’ve just started franchising as well, so the lab will also be a training hub for franchisees. That’s really future-proofing the business.
“Participants on our public courses will be learning how to make flat whites, espressos and latte.
“There’s also different brewing methods – V60 Drippers, Aeropress and filter.
“They cover all the basics – quantities of coffee, temperatures and how to do a heart on a latte.
“People should go home with an idea of how to replicate the quality they get at Urban Baristas.”
Huw said that while the coffee business was tough, especially given the pressures of the current labour market, he much preferred working for himself to his career in finance.
He said: “We’ve made mistakes along the way – there’s been a lot of trial and error, but we think we now know the formula and the positive is you meet great people along the way in this industry.
“I’d like to thank St George for supporting us to open at London Dock – we’re definitely in it for the long term as the area continues to develop.”
Find out more about Urban Baristas here
- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via email@example.com