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 the owner and head chef at Warwick Street Kitchen in Leamington Spa…

Warwick Street Kitchen was an existing deli before owner Lydia Papaphilopopoulos-Snape and head chef George Cambridge transformed it into the vibrant coffee shop it is today. Serving delicious coffee, brunch, lunch, doughnuts and cake in the centre of Royal Leamington Spa, it’s a popular spot for students, families – and anyone who enjoys good coffee and tasty, fresh food.

Creative vision

The original deli sold a modest range of fresh sandwiches, preserves and cheeses, with a couple of tables for people to dine-in. So, when Lydia – who’d been managing someone else’s coffee shop and was looking for a place to set up shop herself – came to view the premises, she was shocked to find such a cavernous kitchen space in the cellar. “My jaw hit the floor. I was like, ‘wow, I need to find a chef,’ because that certainly wasn’t me – and that’s how George came into our lives.”

Thanks to these spacious facilities and George’s years of experience as a chef for a variety of establishments, including hotels and Rosetted restaurants, to bakeries and cafes, the menu at Warwick Street Kitchen is a continuously evolving mix of freshly made savoury dishes, pastries and cakes. Brunch is hugely popular, with hipster staples such as smashed avocado, bacon and poached eggs on toast doing well, alongside some more eclectic options, including George’s favourite, the shakshuka: soft eggs cooked in a rich tomato spiced sauce, served with sourdough toast. “It’s nice to try and have some not so run-of-the-mill items on here to keep it interesting,” he says.

A social space

George employs a similarly creative approach to the menu for Warwick Street Kitchen’s tapas evenings; ticketed social events organised by Lydia once a month. “A lot of my influence comes from Middle Eastern-style food,” says George, “that’s where my passion is in terms of cooking. So I thought we’d try and take classic Spanish dishes and put a Middle-Eastern twist on them. We keep it fresh and different each month. It’s all seasonal, all fresh, made to order, with lots of vegan options.”

“We market the tapas nights mainly through social media,” says Lydia. “We don’t flip the tables as we want people to be here all night. It’s table service as opposed to counter service, so completely different to the daytime vibe. We do cocktails and drinks to go with the food and it’s a really sociable event.”

Doing the right thing

A huge part of Warwick Street Kitchen’s appeal is its ethical approach to doing business. But what does being ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable’ actually mean for the day-to-day running of a small independent restaurant or coffee shop? “As far as we’re concerned, profit can’t be at the expense of the environment or the community,” explains Lydia. This involves making small, impactful changes, such as the decision to use Vegware (compostable takeaway cups, knives and forks) and avoid single-use plastic where possible.

Another important part of this strategy is the use of local suppliers where possible – which, admittedly, is made a little easier by being located in a town overflowing with independent businesses offering good quality produce, all in close proximity. The greengrocer is three doors down, the butcher just around the corner, and they source their fresh bread from a bakery only three miles away in Warwick. “You might sacrifice on cost, but you’re getting a lot better quality by getting it local and fresh,” says George. “Yes, there’s a little bit of effort involved in researching and finding the right people,” adds Lydia, “but it’s worth it.”

“As far as we’re concerned, profit can’t be at the expense of the environment or the community”

Waste not, want not

In a busy restaurant serving freshly made dishes, the amount of food waste can easily mount up. But in keeping with Warwick Street Kitchen’s considered approach, the staff works hard to ensure food waste is kept to a minimum – and this often influences what will be on the menu from week to week. “I always try and build a dish from something that might not be used – offcuts, trimmings, stuff like that – rather than buying a load of new stuff and bringing in more stock and wastage,” says George.

Having a sustainable, socially responsible approach to doing business means making decisions that don’t always prioritise profitability. One example of this is Lydia’s decision to stop selling Coca-Cola and Diet Coke. “We stocked them because people wanted it; it’s a really popular drink. But it just felt a bit thoughtless, like the last crack in our armour. It didn’t stand up for what we’re doing.” For Lydia, making an effort to provide compostable takeaway containers and cutlery, but then supporting a company that produces 10 billion single-use plastic bottles every year, wasn’t right. She researched some alternatives and came across Karma Kola, which ensures the cola bean farmers in Sierra Leone receive a fair price for their crop and also helps support regeneration of the region in the wake of the brutal civil war.

Work in progress

One of the problems with identifying yourself as an ‘ethical’ business is no matter how much you dedicate yourself to the cause, it leaves you exposed to criticism from people trying to catch you out. The best way of countering this, says Lydia, is to be open to feedback and suggestions, as customers usually understand you’re doing your best and that building an ethical business involves some trial and error. George also tries to make everything from scratch – including the ketchup, brown sauces, butter and puff pastry – to allow for greater control over where the food they serve comes from. “We’re over a year in now, so I’d be disappointed if something had slipped through the cracks,” says Lydia. “If there’s something we can improve, we will always look at it,” adds George.

Having completed a full year at the helm, Lydia is excited about what the future holds and hopes to continue to grow the Warwick Street Kitchen brand and expand on its wholesome, socially responsible values. “In terms of location and how quick that would be, that’s still a grey area – we’ve still got work to do here,” says Lydia. “But between George and I, we’ve got more to give. With a different location, different set up, different clientele, I think we could definitely do more.”