Recognised as the best in their business by the Café Life Awards, Timberyard Café is a coffee shop like no other – for a start, tea is incredibly important too. Co-founders Darren Elliott and Ruth Turner welcome Gabriella Werre in for a brew
How did the two of you meet?
Ruth: I’d always wanted to do something in the tea and coffee industry. It had been in the back of my mind for years and years. I worked in insurance in the city and saw a gap in the market for coffee shops where you can sit and have meetings and work. I used to have to plan meetings and attend a lot of meetings, and you either didn’t have the right space or enough plug sockets or the coffee and tea was bad. I’ve never done anything in this industry, so I advertised for somebody to come alongside me and Darren responded, we met up and the rest is history. We got the keys over two years ago for Old Street and before that we were researching together for six months in total before we even opened. We went on a grand coffee tour of London to investigate what was out there already and what we wanted to do, and ideas developed.
Why did you choose Old Street?
Ruth: There were budget constraints, and on top of that landlords are not interested in speaking to people that are trying to start-up if they can’t visualize what it is you’re trying to start-up. They don’t want to hand their space over to anybody, it could be a high risk if it doesn’t work out. Then I found this space, walked in and absolutely fell in love with it. I was looking for a big enough space, which is another problem with our concept because we’re looking for specific spaces. Big enough spaces, but with a lot of natural light. I walked in and actually the first thing I fell in love with in this place were the timber floor boards, which was when I started thinking about the word timber and how I wanted that to be included – and it was our original investor who said to me, ‘well, why not just call it a timberyard? It’s a place where people are coming to work…’ I thought, ‘I love that’. We’ve got Timber Street opposite, which I didn’t even notice!
Did you ever think that the idea of opening your own business wouldn’t work out?
Ruth: Well we have aimed so much further than even where we are now. We’ve set about knowing, we’re aiming high. But you don’t get anywhere unless you aim high.
Darren: Even so, we passed our expectations. Each day it amazes us just how many people are coming through the doors. People find us all the time, and they come in wide-eyed and say, ‘wow, I love this place’ so, we never expected that.
Ruth: That’s what keeps us going. It’s been incredible this year.
I can assume also receiving three awards this year has amounted to even more excitement and sense of achievement. How does it feel?
Darren: Yes and we just found out on Friday that we’re shortlisted for four more. Best espresso, best newcomer, four cup and five cup (four and five stars). It’s lovely when people recognize your efforts, and as a result of Café Life awards we’ve just been so much busier. There’s been an immediate effect, and obviously we need to be at the top of our game because people are coming to check us out. But the buzz has just been electric.
What do you think keeps people coming back?
Darren: Well it’s specifically designed to keep people coming back because it’s not just in and out sales. It is a lifestyle space where you are encouraged to come in and work from here. We encourage people to keep coming back, to work here for long stretches. That has an effect.
Ruth: There’s not anything like us.
Darren: There may be free wifi in Starbucks but the environment isn’t designed for working and keeping you there. There aren’t plug sockets readily available, the ambience isn’t geared towards sitting and working in. It’s not for everyone.
Ruth: The offer isn’t designed to allow you to stay all day either. We’ve got breakfast, snacks, lunches, light snacks…
Darren: A lot of what we offer is actually really healthy as well. I mean okay, there’s lots of cake, but there’s a lot of healthy alternatives to counteract the cake. You can sit here for several hours working, and not feel like you’re eating sugar all day long. You can get yourself some fresh fruit or salad. That’s a big thing for us.
I’ve read on Instagram, Twitter, all of your social media outlets, ‘Tea, coffee, work and play. Reimagined.’ Can you explain that concept?
Darren: Well the tea is there to stress that it’s not just coffee. We’ve dedicated more than half our menu to tea. Tea had to be in there. Work and play obviously is the work place factor of what we do.
Ruth: But the play element is all about meeting people, meeting friends, and coming to curl up with a book.
Darren: We do a lot of events and meet ups and networking events. A lot of it is business and a lot of it is social. It’s to really open up the possibilities of what we can do. We host events like doodleledoo, which is this artist that sits here and everyone doodles while drinking wine – we’ve got an alcohol license. Everything that we do introduces people to Timberyard, and to our networks and other people’s networks.
How many places do you want to have?
Ruth: We’re definitely aiming for five or six. And then the business will get to the point where it needs to be reassessed again. It was always set up with the goal of five or six.
Darren: There are so many people doing great things. Even though we’re doing something really great, we’re up against other places like Kaffeine and we love Kaffeine. When you’re in that kind of company… We’re amongst the people we really respect.
Ruth: Even Look Mum No Hands next door, people would say, ‘aren’t you worried about setting up next to them?’ But the answer is no, we’re really different. They come and have their staff meetings here and we’re not cyclists unfortunately so we don’t use that side of their business, but they do great coffee. And we do great coffee, but they’re very different.
Darren: There’s such a demand for great coffee now. Especially here on our street, there’s so many options around here, but that means that so many people will come to this part of town to go around to all these specialty coffee places. It doesn’t hurt to have more of a reason to come to Old Street. It’s all good business. It’s a real community. We all stick together. We all love speciality coffee and it’s only good if more and more people are drinking it. It’s almost like speciality coffee vs. the big boys on the high street, and not against each other.
Ruth: It’s a great industry to be a part of.
Darren: I think we have successfully created something that is unique to us. That really was what we felt we had to do because there are a lot of different styles, but they’re not diverse enough from each other.
61-67 Old Street EC1V 9HW; timberyardlondon.com