Opening During COVID-19: Canopy Coffee

A sight for sore eyes: the A-board proclaiming that Canopy Coffee is now open after almost three months of enforced closure during the COVID-19 pandemic.My local speciality coffee shop, Canopy Coffee, reopened two weeks ago. As part of the process, it converted itself from a small, sit-in shop to a takeaway-only operation, serving from a hatch to the right of the main entrance. You can see what I made of the new-look Canopy when I visited for my Coffee Spot Update, which is normally where I’d leave things.

However, given the current situation, with many coffee shops unable to safely open during the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought it would be useful to share what I learnt from the conversation that I had with Jonathon, Canopy’s owner, about the steps he took to reopen Canopy and the thought processes he went through.

There are lots of factors to consider when opening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Is it safe, both for staff and customers? Will it be economical? Can you stay true to your ethics and values? What compromises will you have to take in order to open? As you will see, Jonathon had to wrestle with all these issues, but if there’s one piece of advice he asked me to convey above all others, it’s not to open until you’re absolutely ready to.

You can see what else he had to say after the gallery.

  • Canopy Coffee in Guildford, where the old entrance on the left has been replaced by...
  • ... this hatch on the right, where I've got the barista's eye-view.
  • The staff sit behind the table to ensure a two-metre separation from the customers...
  • ... while payment is by card only, with the card reader on the end of a selfie-stick.
  • Orders are then walked over to the other side, and the counter.
  • The cake display is still in use, but now for housing rather than displaying.
  • The espresso machine is still in the same place behind the counter though.
  • The barista works here, taking down the orders...
  • ... before checking the grinder...
  • ... and grinding the coffee...
  • ... which is, of course, weighed. No cutting corners or compromising on quality here!
  • And we're off! The barista is gloved and wears a mask while making coffee.
  • For the moment it's disposable cups only.
  • There's a staging area at the end of the counter...
  • ... where the orders are assembled before...
  • ... the other member of staff takes them back to the table...
  • ... and places them on the shelf outside for collection by the customer.
Canopy Coffee in Guildford, where the old entrance on the left has been replaced by...1 ... this hatch on the right, where I've got the barista's eye-view.2 The staff sit behind the table to ensure a two-metre separation from the customers...3 ... while payment is by card only, with the card reader on the end of a selfie-stick.4 Orders are then walked over to the other side, and the counter.5 The cake display is still in use, but now for housing rather than displaying.6 The espresso machine is still in the same place behind the counter though.7 The barista works here, taking down the orders...8 ... before checking the grinder...9 ... and grinding the coffee...10 ... which is, of course, weighed. No cutting corners or compromising on quality here!11 And we're off! The barista is gloved and wears a mask while making coffee.12 For the moment it's disposable cups only.13 There's a staging area at the end of the counter...14 ... where the orders are assembled before...15 ... the other member of staff takes them back to the table...16 ... and places them on the shelf outside for collection by the customer.17
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Canopy Coffee closed at the end of the day on March 23rd, the day the UK-wide lockdown was announced. Although it had been operating for takeaway only for the preceding week, and, technically, could have continued that way, Jonathon decided to temporarily close. While it wasn’t a decision he took lightly, Jonathon has no regrets. In an echo of what Monika and Chris at Surrey Hills Coffee told me, Jonathon said that closing had provided a chance to step back and look at the wider business.

Running a coffee shop is a full-time and all-consuming business and, very often, business owners, particularly those who work full-time in the shop, are occupied by the day-to-day challenges of running the business, leaving little time for strategic thinking. The enforced break gave Jonathon to time to look at the wider strategy and, with social-distancing measures likely to be with us for some time to come, he quickly realised that Canopy’s short- to medium-term future was as a takeaway operation rather than a sit-in coffee shop (if you’ve never been to Canopy, it’s a tiny space which can hold a maximum of around 10 people; with social-distancing rules that shrinks to maybe three at most!).

One of the things that Jonathon did was to spend two weeks stripping back the coffee shop and refitting it. Every piece of equipment and furniture, right down to the shelves, were taken out, with Jonathon asking himself if it was needed and, if it was, could it be done better? These are the sorts of questions you rarely have time to ask when you’re running a busy coffee shop, and Jonathon told me that he found it very cathartic.

By then, Jonathon had decided to reopen as takeaway only, using the side door as a serving hatch so that customers didn’t have to come into the stop. This was something that he’d experimented with in the last few days before closing in March, but there were further steps that he needed to take in order to ensure safety of both staff and customers.

The main one was to install a Perspex screen in the serving hatch, which, of everything he ordered for the reopening, was the one with the longest lead time: Perspex is in high demand! He also needed to order disposable masks and gloves for the staff, more items with long lead times.

You can read more about the changes to Canopy, from a customer perspective, in my Coffee Spot Update. There were plenty of changes inside Canopy too, starting with the staff. There are two people on duty at any given time, one making coffee, the other taking orders. The barista is in the left-hand side of the shop, where the counter used to be, and where the espresso machine still is. The other member of staff sits behind a desk, set back from the Perspex screen, to ensure a two-metre separation from the customers.

Staff are masked at all times, with disposable gloves worn whenever food is handled. Orders are walked over to the counter, where finished food and drink orders are waiting to be collected. These are taken back to the hatch, where they are left on the shelf outside for the customer to collect. On the three occasions I was there, everything ran very smoothly, with customers placing their orders and then moving away from the hatch, often to the other side of the street, so that other customers could place their orders.

You can read more about the menu, and the compromises that Canopy chose to make, after the gallery.

  • The menu at Canopy has, inevitably, been cut back from pre-COVID-19 days.
  • There's a slightly reduced coffee menu: no pour-over, for example...
  • ... along with some iced variants and cold brew.
  • There are also other hot drinks, with hot chocolate, various lattes and a selection of tea.
  • Finally, Canopy has a range of pastries, cakes and savouries to choose from.
  • Meanwhile, off to the left, the choice of beans hangs on a board on the wall.
  • This was the section on the first day Canopy reopened (note the second espresso choice).
  • By the second week, there was just one espresso choice, plus batch-brew and decaf.
  • This, meanwhile, was the selection on my latest visit.
  • I'll leave you with this: well-behaved customers waiting on the other side of the street.
The menu at Canopy has, inevitably, been cut back from pre-COVID-19 days.1 There's a slightly reduced coffee menu: no pour-over, for example...2 ... along with some iced variants and cold brew.3 There are also other hot drinks, with hot chocolate, various lattes and a selection of tea.4 Finally, Canopy has a range of pastries, cakes and savouries to choose from.5 Meanwhile, off to the left, the choice of beans hangs on a board on the wall.6 This was the section on the first day Canopy reopened (note the second espresso choice).7 By the second week, there was just one espresso choice, plus batch-brew and decaf.8 This, meanwhile, was the selection on my latest visit.9 I'll leave you with this: well-behaved customers waiting on the other side of the street.10
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Canopy Coffee made its name as a multi-roaster speciality coffee shop, offering multiple choices on espresso and pour-over, plus batch-brew and a small but very tasty food offering, backed up with a wide selection of cake.

One of the choices that Jonathon had to make was how much to cut down the menu/coffee offering, while still staying true to Canopy’s principles. In the end, he decided to strip the menu back, with a single choice, plus decaf, on espresso, while pour-over has been removed all together, although the batch-brew option remains. However, Canopy is still a multi-roaster, with the beans for each option changing regularly. Meanwhile, the menu board has been moved to hang outside, to the left of the hatch, with that day’s bean selection clearly displayed. For more on Canopy’s COVID-19 offering, see my Coffee Spot Update.

Another compromise was not to accept customers’ reusable cups, although that’s constantly under review. Canopy has also gone cashless: along with concerns over spreading COVID-19 through physical contact with money, handling cash means that someone needs to bank the money at the end of each day, another avoidable trip.

The final decision was when to open. Even had the shop been physically ready in April, for example, it’s unlikely that there would have been sufficient customers to make it worthwhile. However, footfall in the town centre has been steadily rising, and, with Waitrose, the town centre’s largest supermarket, directly opposite, mid-May seemed the perfect time to reopen, a decision which has already been proved to be correct.

In two weeks of business, Canopy is making more coffees per day than it did before COVID-19, although Jonathon told me that both his customer base and the drinks orders are markedly different, while there’s less of a daily pattern. The morning and lunchtime peaks are gone, for example, replaced by a steady flow of customers throughout the day.

Jonathon is seeing lots more new customers, something he puts down to being the first coffee shop to open in Guildford, opening before any of the other speciality coffee shops or chains. In a sense, Jonathon sees them as borrowed customers who will go back to their regular coffee shops once they reopen. Continuing in that vein, he views Canopy as providing a service while the other coffee shops are closed, which is one of the reasons he decided to charge 2018 prices.

The other change is in what people are ordering. With plenty of people making filter coffee at home, far more flat whites and iced lattes are being ordered than ever before. Jonathon also told me that pastries are proving extremely popular, with Canopy selling three times the usual number! With all that, you might think that there’s a danger of Canopy running out of everything: coffee, milk and food, but Jonathan says that he’s had no problems with the supply chains and that deliveries are arriving promptly.

It’s too early to say where Canopy goes from here, but Jonathon is quietly confident and has plenty of ideas, saying that the enforced two-month closure and the challenges of COVID-19 have given him the impetuous to be bold. Watch this space!

62 HAYDON PLACE • GUILDFORD • GU1 4NE
http://canopycoffee.co.uk +44 (0) 7980 881610
Monday 08:00 – 16:00 Roaster Guests (espresso + batch-brew)
Tuesday 08:00 – 16:00 Seating N/A
Wednesday 08:00 – 16:00 Food Cake, Lunch
Thursday 08:00 – 16:00 Service Counter
Friday 08:00 – 16:00 Payments Cards Only
Saturday 08:00 – 16:00 Wifi N/A
Sunday 09:30 – 15:00 Power N/A
Chain No Visits Original: July/August 2017
Update: 16th, 26th, 29th May 2020

As well as Canopy Coffee, another Guildford speciality coffee shop, Krema Coffee, reopened on Monday, 1st June.


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7 thoughts on “Opening During COVID-19: Canopy Coffee

  1. Pingback: Canopy Coffee (COVID-19 Update) | Brian's Coffee Spot

  2. I will roughly divide thoughts, observations and conversations before lockdown, during lockdown and what will happen next.

    Maybe ten days before lockdown, visiting a large city, not deserted but few people about. One coffee shop closing early few customers. Next coffee shop, few customers, less than half, dropping daily.

    A couple, of days before lockdown, a large city, station deserted, a kiosk on my way into the city centre told me I would find the city centre deserted, few people about, little open. Restaurants I passed by, the few that were open, the few that had customers maybe a couple of diners. I ate and had coffee at a coffee shop, Usually very busy, I was the only person there. Businesses down by at least 80%. Coffee shops were closing at three. In part no customers, in part to let staff home before rush hour, not that there was a rush hour. Talking to the owner of another coffee shop, how was he to survive?

    Measures were already in place, hand sanitiser by the entrance, compostable coffee cups, contactless cards, no reusable cups,

    The kiosk I passed by earlier, after I talked to them, a sign no reusable cups.

    Lockdown mixed blessing, at least cost of staff covered by furlough, rents deferred.

    A city during lockdown. The chains stayed open a for a few days then closed. Indie coffee shops closed immediately. A few weeks ago, one large coffee shop a small chain opened for takeaway. A slow trickle of customers but I doubt it will cover the cost of two staff. The only advantage, they are open before the corporate chains, maybe they will attract and retain some of their clientele.

    Many coffee shops have no future. Too small to manage social distancing. A kiosk can survive on takeaway only, a coffee shop with large overheads cannot. The large coffee shop, once rents and business rates kick back in, would not survive.

    We had sunniest May on record, Mediterranean climate. The tragedy indie coffee shops and restaurants not able to spread their tables into the street. Win win for everyone. Kick starts the local economy, maintains social distancing, helps local businesses back on their feet, improves city centre ambience.

    One coffee shop asked. They received an emphatic no. They currently employ eight staff on furlough. When furlough ends six will lose their jobs leaving two for takeaway coffee, but not a viable businesses.

    Looking at Guildford, I cannot see Canopy Coffee or Surrey Hills surviving as they do not have the option to expand into the street. Krema yes, if allowed to expand into Tunsgate, if not no. When first open, Krema did have its tables in the street and was ordered to remove them.

    It is not only coffee shops at risk. There is the coffee roasteries that supply the coffee shops, the growers who supply the coffee beans.

    We can hear bird song, streets are traffic free, cities pollution free.

    There can be no going back to normal as normal was not normal.

    We have to reclaim the streets.

    In Athens in the evening the streets turn into restaurants. Athens is expanding its network of pedestrianised streets.

    Sheffield has plans to expand pedestrianised streets.

    North Laine in Brighton the restaurants, coffee shops and other shops are in the street. There are plans to expand the pedestrianised streets.

    Soho has pans to pedestrianise the area, turn into one large open air coffee shop and restaurant. Currently awaiting approval from Westminster Council.

    We all have to act. If not, we lose our coffee shops.

    Talk to local councils and councillors, pedestrianise the city centre, allow indie coffee shops and restaurants to spread their tables into the street, no chains no pubs No Smoking.

    Find and locate your local indie coffee shops. Support them.

    Buy coffee. If not from a local coffee shop, from a coffee roastery

    Buy bean-to-bar-craft chocolate.

    Support local businesses.

    Government has to extend furlough for local businesses if they are unable to open.

    Reducing social distancing from two metres to one does not help as it greatly increases the risk for staff and customers.

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