ROLAND HORNE & STEPH GREGG | OPENED: SEPT 2014
What did you do before you opened The Watch House?
STEPH – After graduating with a degree in Creative Music Tech I had been working as a concert manager for a small festival and a session musician. I would sit and dream about owning my own coffee shop but I had no experience in the industry. I took the plunge and got a job working at a small café in Leeds, and quickly found myself in management.
RO – I am lucky as I have opened our first outlet with a collaboration of great people. I am a horrible business money-man who has a few passions which I have turned into businesses. One of these is of course coffee but before this I also opened up a luxury aquarium design firm specialising in installation of exotic aquaria in high end homes. That business continues and I have since set up a property development fund in London and New York. So things are busy but The Watch House has real potential and we plan to also bring it stateside in the next few years once London is well underway.
Why did you decide to open a coffee shop?
RO – We love coffee and customer service. It’s funny how many people in the UK just do not get customer service, and when I say customer service I do not mean “smiles and ‘thank you’s”, I am talking about complete customer satisfaction in what you are doing. We try to curate a nice environment for people to be in, bespoke to reflect the area’s character and personality.
Good coffee AND good food – I don’t understand why so many places succeed at only one of these. So I saw an opening on one of the most famous food streets in London – Bermondsey Street – and decided to go for it, taking a 25sqm space and turning it into a Tardis-like coffee shop experience. It was difficult.
Can you pinpoint a defining moment when the dream turned into reality? The point of no return?
RO – Yes, when we ripped out the 1980s erected fake wooden internal walls to reveal the space in its entirety. Scary but really cool. Also when we re-laid the Victorian black and white tiled floor… suddenly we could see it all!
Is the reality reflective of your early dreams?
RO – Yeah absolutely but my dreams are to take this basic concept of doing everything well and professionally, nationally and even internationally. We want The Watch House to be a little hub of London on the map of each city. British standards and international food, not fancy but just done well, and we want it to have all started from a small church building in London Bridge.
We often hear about people’s mistakes in the early days. What did you get right from day one?
RO – Our coffee supplier, Ozone. They have been superb both in terms of quality but also support, as in the early days it’s all new and there are many variables to figure out. But they have been great. We now have the basis for a stellar team as we open our second and third coffee shops in 2016.
The name originated from the fact the building used to be ‘the watch house’ for the graveyard, guards would keep watch for bone snatchers and grave robbers
How did Ozone get involved?
RO – Very early on Lizzie and the team were really important. They steered us in the right direction on many areas and provided essential support in the early days. We just hope we can keep them all to ourselves and the secret doesn’t get out there too quickly!
What are you going to be doing in 10 years?
RO – Expanding into new markets with good coffee as the supporting foundation for what we do. We want a mature and accessible offering from 21 year olds up to older generation people. We respect Fernandez and Wells in the market for taking this approach also and it is this we want to emulate.
We have recently taken on an angel investor who has backed us to expand quickly over the next 3 years and with that we are opening up our second site in July and hopefully our third before Christmas.
We are looking at sites in the North of England also as it is our belief that outside of London there is a big untapped market, you can see that in Brighton with Small Batch Coffee or Bath with some of the independents there. Tamper in Sheffield and Federal in Manchester, all Ozonites, but operating in emerging markets. There is a lot of potential there and we plan to seek out new cities to develop this approach.
In 10 years The Watch House will have around 20 units and be operating in two or three countries. That is our goal.
STEPH – I started working with Roland and the gang two months after The Watch House opened – although the concept was amazing there was still a lot of work to do to get the business to the level we wanted it to be at. To be honest, I don’t think everything will ever be perfect but that is part of the fun! Everyday brings a new challenge – we are constantly evolving and developing the brand and it’s exciting to be part of such an ambitious company.