Invasion of the concept cafés kai-chan-vong-kaichanvong - Photo: Kai Chan Vong, Flickr Full view

Invasion of the concept cafés

European and American café culture has been invading the UK slowly but surely for quite some time. Inspired by TV shows such as Friends, Britons too started hanging out in coffee shops rather than the local pub. With a range of new additions to the London café culture, we take a look behind the scenes of the capital’s latest trend: Concept cafés

Photo: Kai Chan Vong, Flickr
Photo: Kai Chan Vong, Flickr

Over the last few years novelty and themed cafes have been popping up all around London and especially Shoreditch. Among the most extraordinary is the long awaited “cat café” Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium and the much hyped “pay-as-you-stay” café Ziferblat.

These are some of the latest additions to the concept culture, but more established cafés like bicycle coffee shop Look Mum No Hands, café and hairdresser Hurwundeki and the high-tech news café #Guardiancoffee show that this is likely not just a passing trend.

Culture changes

A collaboration between the Guardian, EE and Nude Espresso, #Guardiancoffee opened in May last year at Boxpark Shoreditch and is an attempt to merge journalism and coffee. Laura Reed, the café’s communications manager, says: “Café culture wasn’t a big part of British culture until people saw it on things like Friends and decided to start going out for coffee together. Then with that came the idea of arts cafés and music cafés which are the obvious things to choose but now that they are well established I think people are choosing more niche places to go instead of the basic cafés.“

“The idea behind the café was to bring some physicality to the digital world. Today everything is online and via apps. The newspaper sales are declining and the physicality of news with them,” she says. “This is a space for journalists to be able to interact with their readers and for readers to be able to voice their opinions.”

These new kinds of coffee shops have become hugely popular and have gained a lot of attention in both traditional and social media. Ziferblat’s revolutionary concept has been much talked about in the national press and Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium handled 7,000 bookings in the first 24 hours ahead of its opening.

Reed thinks the attraction of concept cafés is clear. “I think it is a nice idea to have a theme and I think it brings people who are likeminded together to discuss that topic.”

#Guardiancoffee (Photo: Sakhr al Makhadhi, Flickr)
#Guardiancoffee (Photo: Sakhr al Makhadhi, Flickr)


More cafés to the people!

How important is a theme for drawing customers in? Local café owner Shoko Ghanbar believes that the themed cafés attract new customers rather than steal them from her more traditional corner coffee shop, the Curious Yellow Kafe.

“I think a variety of cafés is a great thing. If we were the only alternative, people would get bored with us. Now they have something else to go and try and come back to us later. I really think that the more cafés the better, because now Shoreditch and Hoxton have become destinations for café goers and more customers will be attracted to the area as a whole.”

Ghanbar’s café is more traditional and mainly focuses on breakfast and lunch food. She does, however, admit that there are some influences that she has taken with her from when she lived in Sweden as a child.

As an entrepreneur herself, Ghanbar has a theory of why there has been such a surge in new types of cafés in the recent years.

“When the economy crashed in 2008 there were so many people out there with these amazing degrees that they couldn’t use. So they had to do something for themselves and a lot of them went back to basics and started small businesses. Many of them saw the potential in East London.”

And there is room for more, in her view: “I really think more corner cafes would bring more life to London. It is a really good platform for people to meet, as many pubs are closing and you kind of don’t have a place to just hang out anymore. So I say more cafés to the people!”


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Follow Mariann Eliassen on Twitter: @Mariann246

Written by Mariann Eliassen

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