Meet the trader: Mr Tinto brings Colombian craft coffee to Croydon

Francisco Rivero outside the original Caithness Walk branch of Mr Tinto. Pic: Joe Coughlan.

Francisco Rivero, known by many as Mr Tinto, first moved to the UK from Colombia in 1998. Currently living in Addiscombe with his wife and kids, the 44-year old has since grown to establish one of the most beloved coffee businesses in Croydon.

A long-time convert of the borough, Rivero went through being a cleaner, vicar and photographer before deciding to work for himself: “I wanted to do something. I said, ‘I’m not working for the man anymore.’”

Mr Tinto was “born in a car boot sale”, he says. A friend of Rivero’s offered him a shared slot at the weekly Wimbledon Stadium sale, and Rivero soon gained a taste for it: “In those months, I learned to trade. It was an exercise, looking back, in haggling and saying, ‘No, that’s my price.’”

After four years of amateur selling, Rivero graduated to the Nine Elms Sunday market: “From that day, I never went back to the car boot sales. That day I said, ‘I’m staying here, I’ll make it work.’ It was a long process, I sold all sorts.”

While still selling custom men’s clothing on weekends, a friend suggested starting a coffee business, given the slow decline of markets and success of another Colombian coffee seller in London Bridge. With her blessing, Rivero met with Croydon Council to discuss the details of a proposed site on Caithness Walk, where he would park a mobile coffee stand fastened to a bicycle each day.

The council quizzed the seller on where he would store this novel bicycle, as well as refill the water and energy sources for the coffee machine. Having not considered these factors, Rivero assured the council that he had accounted for such specifics: “It’s a South American thing – we just go for it. It will work without details. Meanwhile, those are what’s actually important.”

The seating area of the Mr Tinto Caithness Walk kiosk. Pic: Joe Coughlan.

Weeks later, the council issued Rivero with his trading license. Having sourced a custom bicycle with a coffee machine from eBay, Rivero then had the issue of finding where to store his new piece of kit outside of trading hours: “We had nowhere to put it, so we left it outside of our semi-detached house’s garden with a chain – anybody could’ve stolen it.” Rivero later knocked on doors down the length of Lansdowne Road, before Croydon Minis let him store the bike in their garage, as well as recharge and refill the coffee machine.

“The first day of trading, I remember that it was very early in the morning. It was dark, about 5am.” Rivero’s wife drove him to Caithness Walk with handmade pastries from the oven of their Addiscombe house. The couple’s five-month-old son was in the back of their red Ford Fiesta. Rivero still vividly remembers his first day of business in January 2017: “It was sometimes an hour between one coffee sale and the next.”

Sales for Mr Tinto soon outgrew the modest bicycle – an upgrade was in order. A friend of Rivero’s, Aidy Wragg from independent coffee roasters 47 Degrees, eventually sold a horse trailer that he had made to him. Wragg also provided Rivero with the specialty coffee beans that Mr Tinto became famous for, including Colombian, Mexican and Italian varieties.

As interest in craft coffee increased, Rivero set his sights on bringing the roasting process in-house: “Right, a new challenge – let’s buy a roaster. How hard can it be?” Sourcing a machine in Turkey, Rivero describes the difficulty of moving the necessary funds through the airport with his father-in-law: “You were only allowed to carry £10,000 each. We split it half and half, so we left the country with £15,000 in cash in our underwear.”

On the morning of December 22 2019, Rivero woke to the news that his trailer had been set alight by a pair of youths: “It was gone, all of it. But I remember looking at it and I thought, ‘I’ve got the license, and now I have the customers. I just need a trailer. I don’t have the money, but that’s a small problem.’” Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign and a new trailer sourced by the council, Mr Tinto was back in business by the end of January 2020.

Just as trading was picking back up, another problem arose: “Boom, corona hits. What do I do? I cannot open. But I have a roaster and I have a website now.” The national lockdown allowed Rivero to focus on refining his roasting technique, while also pushing online orders for his packaged coffee beans.

Regular updates to the new coffees being offered by Mr Tinto can be found on the shop’s social media pages. Source: Instagram.

Despite hardships, Mr Tinto grew exponentially in 2020. August of that year saw the opening of Rivero’s second branch, located in the Interchange on Station Road. The original Caithness Walk site was also upgraded to a kiosk with its own electricity supply. Finally, Rivero got word of a local business that was leaving behind a warehouse on Beddington Lane.

Having now obtained a roasting headquarters, Rivero aims to establish Mr Tinto in its own right: “I still like to make coffee in the morning, but now the plan is for me to grow the roastery in the warehouse, to be respected as a roaster.”

Last month, Rivero’s third shop opened, based in south Croydon on Sanderstead Road. The owner maintains that these calculated additions are a natural progression for the business: “It’s no different to when I went to the car boot sale for the first time and learned how to trade. This is exactly the same, just a different scenario. Observe, think and react.

“You don’t know everything, you absolutely don’t. I still don’t know what the end of the year is going to be – I just see each day.”

Mr Tinto is located on Caithness Walk, Sanderstead Road and in the Interchange on Station Road in Croydon. More information and details to buy their specialty roasted coffee beans can be found on their website.

Leave a Reply