Four – minute read

Each month, we profile the owner one of our favourite independent bars, cafés, restaurants or retailers for our Meet the Independents blog series. This month, we caught up with Sam Avery, owner of Coffee Architects in Leamington Spa…

Sam Avery never had any ambitions to be a chef. But somehow, she’s found herself (with the help of a small team) preparing 150 to 200 freshly cooked plates per day at her independent coffee shop, Coffee Architects, in Royal Leamington Spa.

Delicious food, homemade cakes and quality coffee aside, this is no ordinary coffee shop – and Sam is no ordinary business owner. Working in partnership with local community project Helping Hands, Coffee Architects is quietly changing the lives of local vulnerable people for the better. It’s an achievement Sam is clearly proud of, but chooses not to shout about. “20% of our workforce is ex-offenders, homeless, re-employed people who’ve basically had a bad time,” she explains. She looks uncomfortable when I suggest her efforts to help individuals who might normally be overlooked by employers due to their background, are commendable. “Yeah, it’s nice – but they’ve done the same for us,” she says. “If we didn’t have them, we couldn’t deliver what we deliver. It’s a team effort. If I didn’t have them, I’d be lost.” She’s also involved with a number of other charitable schemes in the area, including a winter coat donation initiative and a token scheme which allows customers to donate a free meal from Coffee Architects to the homeless. But she chooses not to leverage this in her marketing, instead focussing on what the shop is known for: delicious home-cooked grub and (very) generous portion sizes.

Room to grow

Sam’s dream is to eventually have a medium-sized chain of about six coffee shops around the country, plus her own roastery in Leamington. She’s also keen to continue working with local people and offer something more to the community than just coffee. 10 months after opening, Coffee Architects had already begun to outgrow its Warwick Street premises and Sam has been working tirelessly on plans to open other sites. But trying to grow your brand has its challenges when you are so involved with the day-to-day running of the business and it can be a struggle trying to get your plans taken seriously when you’re competing with the large chains. “Coffee shops are changing, they’re evolving,” she says. “You’ll notice our tagline is ‘not just another coffee shop’ because whenever a new one opens on the high street you’ll hear everyone go ‘oh, not another one.’ We want to work with local charitable businesses and community-based projects to employ those people and try and operate on a local level. But being an independent means you don’t always take the 20-year leases landlords want, so you don’t get priority – that’s the difficulty,” she says.

Sam has also worked with an agency to develop the Coffee Architects brand into something she can continue to replicate across all sites in the future. “Anything we do now – although it may seem like we’re just one shop at the moment – we’re always keen to make sure that everything is on-brand. The agency designed our logo and helped us build brand guidelines around it. We spent a lot of time doing a brand essence workshop with them and worked out what we’re all about.” After being asked by numerous customers about purchasing official Coffee Architects merchandise, Sam has also recently launched a range of branded coffee cups which are proving popular with the café’s loyal local following.

Embracing the competition

Part of Sam’s community-focused setup involves taking a different approach when it comes to the local competition; understanding that the success of your business relies upon the success of the town as a whole. This means recognising your own strengths and the strengths of those around you, too. “We stick to what we’re core at,” she explains. “If a burger place opens up over the road, instead of panicking and saying ‘oh, we need to do burgers,’ we don’t change what we do, we embrace them. So when people come in and ask if we do burgers, we say no, but so-and-so has opened over the road and they’re phenomenal, go and try them out. Or we do a piece on them, or we launch them on our noticeboard, or Facebook page. For us, it’s important that we work as a community. As independents, we all support each other.”