I present the third of four Saturday Supplements taken from an extended version of my article in Issue 6 of Caffeine Magazine It features Pink Lane Coffee, a coffee shop which has taken the same journey as the subject of the previous Saturday Supplement, Ouseburn Coffee Co. (OCC), but in the other direction, branching out into roasting via the Colour Coffee Company. I chatted with founder, Anthony Atkinson (Anth), who runs Pink Lane and the Colour Coffee Company with his wife.
Anth started as an account manager for a large coffee supplier, but as self-confessed coffee geek, Anth wanted the freedom that he wasn’t getting working for a large company. As the rep for the northeast of England, he visited lots of great coffee shops in the region as well as travelling to legends such as Colonna & Small’s in Bath.
It was while travelling around the northeast that he spotted a gap in the market in Newcastle, which, despite boasting Flat Caps Coffee and Pumphrey’s, still didn’t have the sort of coffee shop Anth was seeking. This led to the setting up of Pink Lane, where the focus is on coffee and all its glorious variations in flavour.
You can read the rest of the article after the gallery.
For Anth, keywords are quality and consistency, echoing what I heard on my visit to Newcastle. Discussing the coffee shop’s role in educating the customer, Anth’s message was similar to that of Andy from Pumphrey’s. For Anth, it’s as much getting people to try new coffees as it’s breaking their habits, such as putting milk in filter coffee or using sugar. However, it’s a slow process:
“We just want to win by inches. It’s [something] that we see with our regulars, the little victories. There’s a few that went from sugar in their coffee and now don’t have sugar in their coffee. It’s nothing active push, they’ve kind of got it by osmosis.”
This means building relationships with customers, which starts with the staff. Unfortunately, as others have told me, finding the right staff is hard. Anth explains:
“We’re trying to hire at the minute. It’s a combination of liking coffee and talking. It’s harder than you think to find.”
Retaining staff is just as hard. For Anth, part of the solution is creating a good working environment:
“One of the things that we wanted to do when we set this place up was to enjoy our work. Sometimes you don’t like the environment you work in, so we really wanted to make sure that when we were working here that it was somewhere fun to work for us and everyone enjoyed the work.”
However, finding people who fit that environment’s also hard:
“It’s almost like dating: you have to find someone you can spend six hours a day with. If you can’t stand the person after 20 minutes, you can’t work a shift with them.”
Despite this, staff turnover is a constant problem. Anth lost head barista, James, to London’s Bulldog Edition, the partnership between Ace Hotel and Square Mile. Rather than complain, Anth sees it a natural consequence of recruiting and training the best staff:
“It’s better to have someone good, briefly, than somebody bad for a long time.”
When staff move on, he’s pleased for them:
“’Good, congratulations. I’m happy for you’. You want people to do well. We’ll find someone else and train them. [For the staff] It’s a step in a longer journey. We’re getting people for an amount of time and you just appreciate them for however long you get them for.”
One way to combat this high turn-over is with an ever-expanding coffee shop empire, giving staff opportunities within the business. However, as Anth explains:
“We’re an ambitious little company, but opening coffee shops is hard. I’m not saying we won’t do any more, but…”
Instead, his attention has been focused elsewhere, exploring options such as coffee carts. More recently, Anth’s fascination with all things coffee and a desire to produce the best coffee possible has led to the same conclusion as OCC, but in the opposite direction. Instead of being a roaster opening coffee shops, Anth’s a coffee shop owner who roasts.
The result is Colour Coffee Company, roasting small batches on a 3 kg roaster that used to live in the back of Pink Lane. The aim is identical to OCC: to control as much of the coffee chain as possible. Initially Pink Lane used Colour’s beans alongside regular guest roasters, but now Pink Lane uses Colour exclusively. Colour, meanwhile, has made inroads into the local scene, supplying other local coffee shops, such as Cafe 1901 and The Journey.
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