Mous­tail Cof­fee on ex­pan­sion and Brexit

Cou­ple’s thriv­ing cof­fee busi­ness is ex­pand­ing but oth­ers may not fol­low due to Brexit fears

The Wharf - - Canary Wharf - Rachel Bishop

For Es­to­nian-born cou­ple Kris­tel Parts and Mar­gus Var­vas, mov­ing to Lon­don 10 years ago was “a no-brainer”. Since then they have set up thriv­ing busi­ness Mouse­tail with stores in Whitechapel, Bor­ough and Dept­ford, and two carts at West In­dia Quay and Canada Wa­ter.

Mouse­tail launched with a small cof­fee cart just out­side Canada Wa­ter sta­tion in 2013.

Five years later they are set to open a fourth per­ma­nent site a few me­tres away, launch­ing late this month or early De­cem­ber in one of Rother­hithe’s lat­est devel­op­ments Project Light, serv­ing brunch and cof­fee by day and of­fer­ing shar­ing plates and drinks by night.

Kris­tel said: “We will also have some snacks and nib­bles and some very good wines, beers and cock­tails so peo­ple can come by just for a drink or for a meal. “We want this to be a place for the lo­cal com­mu­nity – we’ve been here for five years with our van now so we have a big fol­low­ing in the area al­ready, but it lim­its how much we can do.” But as Brexit looms they say they have al­ready seen a shift in peo­ple com­ing to Lon­don who may have moved to the cap­i­tal with sim­i­lar dreams to theirs. Kris­tel, 28, said: “When we moved here we wanted to ex­plore. Bor­ders were open and it was good to travel. “We stayed be­cause of our friends and we didn’t have an ex­act plan to come and de­velop this busi­ness.” But al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter the ref­er­en­dum vote to leave the Euro­pean Union in June 2016 they no­ticed a change.

Mar­gus, 33, said: “What we re­alised mostly is be­fore the vote find­ing new staff was quite easy, but af­ter that peo­ple were less likely to come into the coun­try – you could see the dif­fer­ence in­stantly.

“When we ad­ver­tised for new staff be­fore you’d get a se­lec­tion of 30 or 40 CVs but now you’d maybe only get about three.

“No one has left us be­cause of the vote but you can see it’s scared peo­ple think­ing of com­ing here.

“For peo­ple like us, 10 years ago, mov­ing to Lon­don was a no-brainer but now you’d con­sider other lo­ca­tions maybe.”

Kris­tel added: “Start­ing your life here has be­come more dif­fi­cult – peo­ple have said it’s harder to open bank ac­counts and find places to stay – so they think, ‘What’s the point?’

“Hope­fully for us we’ve been here more than a decade now – we have our life here so we will just wait and see.”

The cou­ple, who now live on the Isle Of Dogs, worked in hos­pi­tal­ity when they first moved to Lon­don back in 2008.

Mar­gus was in­spired to start the busi­ness af­ter work­ing with a sim­i­lar con­cept with cof­fee vans out­side.

He said: “When we started, spe­cial­ity cof­fee was still a very new thing in Lon­don so there weren’t many op­tions.

“We al­ways wanted to do some­thing on our own – some­thing that didn’t need a big in­vest­ment – so we started from a small base.

“When we started in Canada Wa­ter with the cart they were still build­ing On­tario Point and it was kind of a risk as there wasn’t much go­ing on aside from con­struc­tion.

“But then ev­ery­thing es­ca­lated – we got an­other van and then opened our first cafe in Whitechapel.”

The cof­fee duo also roast their own beans at their Clap­ton-based roast­ery Mis­sion Works Cof­fee, which also pro­vides for scores of other cafes across the UK, in­clud­ing Brix­ton’s Stir Cof­fee, the City’s Host Cof­fee and the cheek­ily named Hairy Barista in Totnes, Devon.

“We wanted to roast our own beans so we could make sure we were pro­duc­ing the best prod­uct. Cof­fee is es­sen­tially like wine – you can have a re­ally ba­sic £5 bot­tle or a re­ally ex­clu­sive high qual­ity one.”

When the cou­ple launched the roast­ery around two years ago Mar­gus said oth­ers were “pop­ping up ev­ery month” but they be­lieve this is slow­ing down now partly thanks to the mar­ket be­ing “full” and peo­ple wait­ing on the ef­fects of Brexit.

He said Mouse­tail saw it as a great thing for the sec­tor that so many spe­cial­ity cof­fee op­tions had sprung up since they launched their busi­ness.

He added: “We love that there are so many more.

“In a sense they’re help­ing each other in that peo­ple are more aware and knowl­edge­able about cof­fee. “That’s thanks to all of us. “It’s some­thing you drink ev­ery day so it doesn’t make sense for it not to be re­ally good.

“Ev­ery neigh­bour­hood should have the op­tion for a re­ally good cof­fee.”

They both feel their per­sonal ap­proach makes them stand out.

Mar­gus said: “We are a small chain but our shop has its own per­son­al­ity.

“You don’t have this feel­ing you’re walk­ing into a chain shop and most of the peo­ple work­ing with us have stayed with us a long time.

“Most of our cus­tomers are reg­u­lars, so the barista will know them and what they like to or­der so of­ten, by the time they get to the counter they will al­ready be mak­ing their drink.

“We be­lieve those lit­tle de­tails, like know­ing their name or what they like to drink, makes a huge dif­fer­ence.”

It’s some­thing you drink ev­ery day so it doesn’t make sense for it not to be re­ally good Mar­gus Var­vas, Mouse­tail

Go to mouse­tail­cof­ for more in­for­ma­tion.

Mar­gus Var­vas be­lieves “ev­ery neigh­bour­hood should have the op­tion for a re­ally good cof­fee”

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