Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Coffee
For the first part of our St John Street At Work series we visit recent arrival Jeff & George, a cafe with Belgian roots and musical ambition
Setting up a café can be a tricky business. Jeff will tell you so firsthand – he opened Jeff & George about 18 months ago, but still has locals coming in and asking him if he’s new to the area, something he blames on his lack of marketing skills. “I’ve really only got regular customers, that’s a little bit my problem,” he says.
Jeff – whose actual name is Jean-Francois David – brews an excellent espresso and makes all his food fresh every morning. In the morning he bakes his pastries and quiche behind the counter and for lunchtime BLTs, the bacon is cooked in front of you.
Jeff, a tall and lanky Belgian, of “around 40”, with a heavy French accent, came to London about seven years ago. He was visiting a friend studying at City University London, just down the road, and liked the area so much that he sold the hotel he owned in Belgium and moved to Islington. “It is a safe area and it has everything – it’s like a small village in central London! Now that I’ve lived here for seven years I know a lot of people.”
He actually compares his shop to a small community in itself, since he knows most of his customers and speaks to them every day. Not everyone appreciates it though. “It’s not easy because in London they don’t take the time to do that anymore, a lot of people don’t want to speak to you. I actually lost a few customers because I asked them ‘How are you?’ But I thought, well if you don’t like that, go to Pret a Manger. But of course that’s not a good way to do business.”
He’s open in conversation and describes how he studied classical music back in Belgium, after which he took up a professional career in dressage horse riding, competing internationally. “The horse riding was a very good time, for 20 years I was living with my horses. And I would say that I was on holiday all the time, because I did exactly what I liked to do. But it was not easy to live off that.”
Next he bought a hotel, the one he sold when he decided to come to London. Before opening the cafe, which he took over from the previous owner, he was organising garden parties at Buckingham Palace and working at London Fashion Week and for the US embassy. He then ran a restaurant in King’s Cross for three years before striking out on his own.
He hasn’t left his old life behind completely – he still teaches horse riding in London and enjoys a pint at Round Midnight, the jazz and blues bar by Chapel Market. “Every Tuesday they do a jam session. It’s a good place to go. And they’re very good, some of them are from the Blue Note [Jazz Club] in New York and they come and play for free here. You don’t have to go to Ronnie Scott’s in Soho to hear very good music.”
In addition to revamping the small courtyard in the back of the cafe, Jeff would actually like to start a music club in his basement. “I’ve got a room downstairs, where I’d like to do a musical studio, for people to come and practice. My guitar teacher is coming to teach as well, and I would like to manage a ukulele club on Sunday afternoon. That’s the kind of atmosphere I want here.”