Monday, 28 November 2011

Let them eat cake

Unemployment rising. TICK
Global food prices soaring. TICK
Consumer spending on goods and services remaining low. TICK
Britain likely to enter a double recession. TICK

Ideal time to open another cafe.

People often ask me whether the credit crunch has affected our business. Its impossible for me to answer because this is the only economic environment Lantana has known. Opening in September 2008, Lantana arrived on the crest of the wave that was, and still is, the global financial crisis.

I remember the day before we opened flicking through a newspaper filled with stories of the long deep recession we were facing. As the knot in my stomach grew tighter and tighter I said to my business partner “I think we might be the most stupid people on earth”.

We bravely soldiered on and three years later not only is Lantana still in business, it is now one of many independent cafes in London that are not just surviving, but thriving. I’m amazed and delighted that barely a month goes by when I don’t hear about a new café opening that I want to go and check out. Two have opened just recently, metres from where I live.

Salt on Great Queen St, Covent Garden, the day before opening



and just around the corner in Wellington St Covent Garden, Notes recently opened their second cafe. 


“Let them eat cake” is famously attributed to Marie Antoinette when told that the starving peasants had no bread to eat. While this expression has been used to demonstrate her frivolity and callousness, maybe she has been wrongly maligned. I suspect that she was actually showing great empathy for the peasants, understanding that in times of extreme economic hardship it is the small luxuries that help us survive.

On a bleak Monday afternoon while sitting in one of my favourite local cafes 


I sipped a silky smooth flatwhite with a slice of carrot cake and pondered why cafes seem to be defying the economic slump. On cue, two city types popped their heads in and one said to the other: 
“This place looks nice. Is it expensive?”
“£2.20 for a coffee. That’s cheap” the other replied, and in they came.
Since when did suits become sensitive to the price of a cup of coffee?

That's when it struck me. Independent cafes are no longer the third place. They have become the credit crunch place. With their reclaimed furniture and lack of frills or pretention, they are the affordable luxury that we can still enjoy in a gloomy world of austerity cuts and meagre budgets. The fact that independent cafes are usually staffed by young scruffy hipsters is the icing on our cake, making us feel we are doing our bit for youth unemployment.

So with shaky hand about to sign the lease for a second café, I can read the newspaper with less fear than I might when economists are describing our grim economic future and quibbling over whether the recovery will be shaped like a 'V' 'W’ or 'U'.  Perhaps it will be an 'L' shape (long-term slump with no recovery) which in years to come will be taught in high school economic classes as the ‘Latte’ recovery. 







26 comments:

Degsy said...

Great post, best of luck with your new venture.

Wonder Food Blog said...

You're totally right! As crazy as it sounds. Starbucks announced it will create 5000 new jobs from opening cafes! It seems many people are willing to cut down on non-essentials, but not coffee or it's ambiance!

James said...

Hi,
Firstly love your blog, very, very much.
I think opening up your own thing is an outstanding idea. How could someone with so much passion not be triumphant.
We make foodie based films, recently having created a film following Great British Bake Off wonder Holly Bell as she created a wonderful alternative ginger sponge Christmas Cake.
http://vimeo.com/33447561
We'd love to hear your thoughts on it, and if you ever needed any film footage to promote your new venture we'd love to talk. Tweet or ping us an email via our site.
Many thanks,
James
Stupid Creative Director
Twitter: @stupidcreative

http://kenwoodchefstore.co.uk/ said...

Well written, not sure about the credit crunch place, though it sounds like the unemployed have a bit of spare change to spend at yours. Anyway, best of luck!

You might need one of these, if you haven't got one already.

http://kenwoodchefstore.co.uk

Northbysudouest said...

Great blog, I am on the cusp of opening my own place for the first time and its nice to know that maybe it might work!

Anyway, I am a chef who moved from the UK three years ago to live in the south of France. I have recently decided to start writing a blog about my french food adventures, you might like to read my work?

So, here is the link!

http://northbysudouest.blogspot.com/

Feel free to read, comment, follow and tell your friends and thanks for the new cafe encouragement!

Cheers! A

P.s Living in france, I always wake up and want runny eggs, bacon, and beans! The full english hasn't made it here yet but it needs to!

I ♥ food and travel said...

Great post, I've been past your cafe many times and always wanted to go in, but now I know your story I'll definitely stop by for a good Aussie made coffee!

The Skinny Cook said...

hEllo FOOD FRIEND!!!


How are you?
Love the blog and pics - drool!!
Am coming into London and would love suggestions on great places to eat -
just simple, good food - cheap is good but if it's worth the 'slightly' higher price - will take it too!!!

thanks for your help
am eaters of all things YUM and am searching for coffee, bakeries, farmers markets and just food - oh and brunch too!!
Thanks,
Michelle

The Skinny Cook said...

hEllo FOOD FRIEND!!!


How are you?
Love the blog and pics - drool!!
Am coming into London and would love suggestions on great places to eat -
just simple, good food - cheap is good but if it's worth the 'slightly' higher price - will take it too!!!

thanks for your help
am eaters of all things YUM and am searching for coffee, bakeries, farmers markets and just food - oh and brunch too!!
Thanks,
Michelle

Bernie said...

Hi
I Googled your name after seeing it on the window of the empty building underneath my office in Old Street. I'm excited if you are the same Shelagh Ryan and heading our way. Are you? We have Pret, Starbucks, Eat and POD. An independent would be nice. Especially with free wifi...

Shelagh Ryan said...

Hi Bernie, Yes this Shelagh Ryan is headed your way to City Rd. I'm pleased to hear that you think we'd be a welcome addition to your neighbourhood. See you soon I hope.
Shelagh

Shelagh Ryan said...

Hi Northbysudouest, Thanks for sharing your blog- fantastic photos. I can commiserate on the hands. Hospitality is not for the vain or precious. But hey, the sacrifice is worth it non?

Shelagh Ryan said...

Skinny Cook, That's too big a question! There are so many fantastic places to eat and drink in London. If you are after good coffee I'd recommend The Independent Coffee Book London - http://independentcafes.co.uk/london.html

For brunch there's a great book called Breakfast and Brunch Book of Secrets (yes Lantana is in it) which you can get at Waterstones- http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/will+hide/breakfast+and+brunch+secrets+london/8843767/

For other food, Timeout is always a good source. One of my favourites for atmosphere and food is Polpo in Soho. Happy eating.

Lorraine said...

I've relocated to London from Sydney, and can't believe how I took this sort of quality food for granted!

I live in the South London burbs, and the local independent cafes are really disappointing. Pret is about as good as it gets, and I feel a little bit grubby every time I go there...

YummyFood said...

Great blog Post!

John said...

Cafés seem to be taking over from pubs as the place to go to meet up.

Perhaps it's because Friends and Frasier have made coffee more common place, and the sitcom Cheers has faded from our screens?

Me, I still enjoy eating out at restaurants even though there is a recession on...

Bernie said...

Lovely! When will you open? We're at Sage, in Oliver's Yard. Looking forward to it!

Bernie said...

Lovely! When will you open? We're at Sage, in Oliver's Yard. Looking forward to it!

Bernie said...

Lovely! When will you open? We're at Sage, in Oliver's Yard. Looking forward to it!

Shelagh Ryan said...

Hi Bernie, We're planning to open just after Easter. Looking forward to meeting all of our neighbours.
Shelagh

martha said...

the "latte recovery", gosh ...this is so well written

Designer blog said...

I'm pretty sure even coffee outings are being cut down now. Hopefully things will pick up.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shelagh

I read about your blog on Timeout..I am also opening a new cafe in the Tower Bridge area and completely relate to everything you say. How refreshing to see that you promote other businesses in your blog . If I had your writing skills I would do the same.
Thanks for this amazing blog and I wish you all the luck in your exciting ventures.

Rana

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