Behind the shopfront: businesses in East London

Clockwise: Satan's Whiskers, The Haberdashery, Birdy Num Nums, The Cronx Brewery Composite: Pippa Bailey

Clockwise: Satan’s Whiskers, The Haberdashery, Birdy Num Nums, The Cronx Brewery Composite: Pippa Bailey

In the second part of ELL’s business profile, we interviewed new business owners in our boroughs to see how startup culture, regeneration and the East London Line are affecting your high street.

Sevjan Melissa, Birdie Num Nums, opened December 2013

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“My sister and I have a lot of experience in the food sector and we grew up with our dad owning a restaurant. My uncle owned this space as an off-license and when he got ill, we thought we’d keep it in the family and open up the café. We love New Cross and have lived here nearly our whole life.

Our first year is going really well, we get a lot of compliments from customers and repeat business which is a real sign that we’re doing well. We’re open to change and we take feedback on board. We’re always really busy and we’re doing better than we thought.

The council have been great in helping us. We liaised with the council’s regeneration and innovation team, who are keen to make the shop look good and fit in with the area. So they put us in touch with Lee Newham from Designed by Good People, to design our shopfront.

The east London line has really opened up the area. Since being here, we’ve noticed a lot of bars opening up and cool cafes because even though the area has a lot of students, they are willing to pay for good coffee and good food. A few years ago, Dalston and Peckham got really cool because people noticed something in them and now the same is happening in New Cross - it’s on the up. More people have access to the area and now people are running the type of business that they really want to, rather than just running a business to survive, and a lot of that has to do with accessibility.

There is a real community vibe here in Lewisham and I’ve not seen that anywhere else that I’ve lived in London.”

11 Lewisham Way
New Cross, SE14 6PP

Maddy Inoue, Maddy’s Fishbar, opening May 2014

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“My friend suggested the idea to me as the landlord of the space wanted to keep the business as a fish and chip shop and my background was in fish and seafood. Lewisham council was very helpful when I applied for grants and they helped us with issues like trying to get an alcohol license. They did lots of checks on our business plan to make sure we would be an advantage to the area and would fit in in line with their regeneration plans. I found the council very supportive of new businesses and regeneration.

New Cross, and Lewisham, is a good place to start a new business but it has still got a good few years to go to catch up with Hoxton and Shoreditch. The east London line has made it so much more accessible - it used to be a nightmare before to try and catch the last train. More businesses are opening up because of the accessibility and it’s turning into a more desirable area. I’ve seen a range of new businesses like cocktail bars, grocery stores selling fresh produce and funky cafes. This is partly because of a new demographic, but also because the east London line and the university means that people are buying into experiences and they don’t mind spending a bit more - people in New Cross want to try out new things.”

397 New Cross Road
New Cross, SE14 6LA

Read the Lewisham business profile.

Massimo Bergamin, The Haberdashery, opened September 2013

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“We started the business four and half years ago with our first branch in Crouch End. The idea behind it was to open a place with good, rustic food and a very welcoming environment, which is what we couldn’t find in London. I never liked pretentious places or fancy places. We wanted to open a place which would almost feel like going to a friend’s house, and the food would have to reflect that. We’re fully licensed so we’re not just a coffee shop or a restaurant; we do lots of events in the evenings including poetry, comedy and live music.

It took us a while to find the location – we had been looking for over two years. Stoke Newington was always one of our preferred areas, as it’s not that different from Crouch End so we had experience in a similar area, and we wanted it to be in north London. But the actual opening was actually extremely easy because we had already tested the waters in Crouch End and we had procedures in place. So far – touch wood – it’s gone very well.

In Stoke Newington there’s something new opening up every couple of weeks, especially on the highstreet, and they’re all really interesting, cool places that do lots of unusual things. There’s lots and lots going on here at the moment so we’re very lucky to be here.”

170 Stoke Newington High Street
Stoke Newington, N16 7JL

Missy Flynn, Rita’s Bar and Dining, opened November 2013

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Rita’s began as a pop-up restaurant in east London in 2012. We set out to make the food and drinks that we love, as well as create a friendly local restaurant that feels just exciting to visit as a destination as it does comforting to visit as a local. The menu has evolved from bar food, maintaining the ethos of simple, good quality, well made dishes.

Most of us live in east London and in any case we all spend a lot of time socialising, so for our first pop up if felt natural to do something local to us and in a familiar environment. We were excited by the prospect of being part of the new generation of independent business that are opening in the area.

Setting up, there were of course the late nights, stressful days, flared tempers and everything else that goes with launching something new but there was also lots of laughter, late night pizza and good memories formed. We had a fair amount of support from the council who offered us comprehensive advice on our licensing and also helping us get a good deal on the less glamorous but very important aspects of restaurant work like waste disposal and health and safety!

Business has been good, steady. We’ve seen lots of old faces but lots of new, and have built up a nice local regular customer base which is really exciting because that was always integral to our goals.”

175 Mare Street
Hackney, E8 3RH

Read the Hackney business profile.

Britt Foe, Cult Mountain, opened December 2013

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“We are a new artists emporium showcasing the works of over 70 different UK based artists and designers, aiming to be the bridge between the commercial market and the underground UK art scene. We also run a veggie, vegan and gluten free café during the day and do independent film screenings and events.

I’m a fashion designer by trade and, being in the industry, I realised that there’s no platform for new artists to show their work and there’s so much amazing artwork in London and the UK that’s just not being seen because it’s so expensive to get into a gallery or you need lots of money to start up a label. There’s no support for graduates and new artists so I wanted to give a voice to all of these artists.

I’d been thinking about it for about eight years but since I met my business partner it took about two years to get going. We were in Hackney Wick for about a year before we moved to Bethnal Green. It was quite hard to find our premises, we were looking for about two or three months. So far it seems to be working – people love it. Business has its ups and downs; about 85 per cent of it has been self-generated.

We chose Shoreditch because it’s a really good up and coming arty area. It is an entrepreneurial area and could be wonderful, but the council sponsors big generic shops like Costa, Sainsburys and Tescos and don’t see the real reason why independent businesses make the area interesting and ultimately profitable."

141 Bethnal Green Road
Shoreditch, E2 7DG

Marcis Dzelzainis, Satan’s Whiskers, opened November 2013

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“We wanted to open a bar because it’s a developing area and there was a bit of a gap in the market as there’s not a lot of bars around here. But there’s a nice local crowd and we wanted to be a local bar with price points of £7.50 to £8 for a cocktail. We also sell good American diner style food and we’re open from 5pm til late. Our name comes from a classic cocktail called ‘Satan’s Whiskers’, which includes gin, vermouth and orange juice.

We’ve had a really busy few months, people like it because we have simple cocktails and good ingredients.

The area seems to be getting more startups because little bubbles are forming outside of Shoreditch. Also London seems to be becoming more residential and people really want more locals.”

343 Cambridge Heath Road
Bethnal Green, E2 9LJ

Read the Tower Hamlets business profile.

Simon Dale, The Cronx Brewery, opened July 2012

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“We decided to set up a brewery because we knew it was a booming industry. It was born out of our mutual love of ale and we just decided to go for it. There was a massive gap in the market and there was nothing in Croydon, which is quite disappointing if you consider the size of the borough.

Our first year has been both rewarding and challenging. It's been better than expected and people have been very receptive to us. People really like locally produced ale and local produce in general - pubs and consumers are both going for it.

Croydon is growing as a business hub. It got a bit of a bad name for itself, especially after the riots, people referred to it as the Croydon Bronx. That's where our name came from (The Cronx) and we thought it was a marketable name.

Part of the reason why the borough is growing business wise is that it has great transport links to London and the M25, and it is also very easy to get to Gatwick and City airport. It's becoming a bigger and bigger place for businesses and the regeneration scheme is really kicking off now.

There is a technology movement going on at the moment in the borough, it is driven by local people who are bringing technology-minded people together and so there are many more businesses in this sector. We expect a lot of international businesses will move to Croydon in the coming years to set up their headquarters."

Vulcan Business Centre, Vulcan Way
New Addington, Croydon CR0 9UG

Jay Green, Candy Buffet Creations, opened May 2012

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“I got the idea for Candy Buffet Creations while I was on maternity leave and having a browse on the internet. There were a lot of American sites offereing services to lay out tables full of candy for events and thought 'I could do that'. I thought it was different, interesting and creative. It was unique too, I hadn’t seen it in the UK. It’s growing now, but it was a new concept back then.

We run the business from a lock up and online. This works for small businesses because a lot of them have a family to work around – I need to be able to fit it in around my young children and my part time job.

Internet businesses are on the up – they don’t have to worry about overheads and rental expenses. Difficulty in affording office space is definitely a national trend. Also, having an internet business means that my business spans wider than Croydon because we’re more accessible to other parts of the country. We do big wedding shows and corporate events have taken off like Capital FM, DFS and Sky FM.

Our first year has been really busy, the biggest challenge has been juggling the business with my family.”

224 South Norwood Hill
London, SE25 6AS

Read the Croydon business profile.

As told to Pippa Bailey and Serina Sandhu

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