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Minute on the Clock: James Dickson, Workshop Coffee owner

28 January 2016 by
Minute on the Clock: James Dickson, Workshop Coffee owner

Coffee roaster and five-site coffee shop group Workshop Coffee has opened a new roastery alongside a soon-to-open café in East London's Bethnal Green. Owner James Dickson speaks to Hannah Thompson about sourcing, trends and plans for the future as Workshop gears up to expand its "sweet, clean coffee" ethos

Why open the new roastery?

Our business on the wholesale side is growing at an incredible rate. We want to be able to harness this properly by having adequate space and the capacity to cope with the demand. Furthermore, we see the new space as an opportunity to improve quality control as a result of better equipment, sample roasting and a climate-control area.

You've described your coffee as the "sweetest, cleanest, freshest and most sustainably-procured coffee possible". What makes it so?

It's about how we source our coffee. In a nutshell, this means that we are sourcing coffees that are in season, recently harvested and properly processed. ‘Fresh, sweet and clean' alludes to seasonality. If a coffee is not in season, we're not interested.

What does your coffee offer that other high-end brands do not?

Workshop's coffee offering is built across the three pillars of sourcing, roasting and brewing. Sourcing, as above, is fresh, sweet and clean. Our roasting approach is derived from absolute attention to detail, quality control and honesty. Our brewing philosophy is derived from planning, analysis and training. What we offer in terms of coffee is absolute focus.

What are you most excited about for the Bethnal Green space?

Honestly, being able to improve the roasting side of the process and to deliver Workshop Coffee to our wholesale customers and online retail consumers with greater ease and accuracy.

Why have seats and a public café area in the roastery itself?

Whether you are in the Workshop roastery or café, you should be able to experience our coffee. As well as being a production space to roast coffee, the roastery also exists as a window into showing people our approach. The retail side is really important in showcasing what we do and how we do it.

You run coffee shops for the public, but are also a wholesaler to other cafés. How do you balance those quite different businesses and demands?

We run bespoke and focused coffee bars for the public, which are an exercise in refinement. Both the retail side and the wholesale side of the business complement each other really well.

What do you look for in an ideal new site?

Clean spaces and an eclectic neighbourhood.

The mobile bar allows us to move it accordingly through the space and to transport it to the other locations if we wish. It's a really flexible option to retain.

You've got sites in London's Clerkenwell, Fitzrovia, Holborn, Marylebone and now Bethnal Green. What are the major differences between them?

We very much have a three-pronged approach to our sites: the roastery, the café in Clerkenwell, and the coffee bars in Holborn, Marylebone and Fitzrovia. All our locations exist to showcase Workshop Coffee in the best possible way and each design is different.

Is this the first step in a wider expansion plan? What are your future plans for the group?

This is a first step, but we want to do more on customer service in our digital and wholesale areas. Our new packaging fits through a letterbox, for example. We're very excited about it.

Coffee has been a big trend for some time now. Where is it going, would you say?

I don't think it has peaked or even really started. Hopefully, we'll see a greater focus on the need for fresh, sweet and clean coffees that have been roasted with accuracy and pride and made available for drinking after the perfect rest time.

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