10 Questions – The Kiln

Newcastle’s creative culture hub, Ouseburn, is full of cafes and offices of all shapes and sizes. Richard Dawson speaks to the team at The Kiln, Ouseburn to get their perspective on this idea of the cafe as a place of work

What does it take to run a successful café here in the North East?

At Kiln, it is about keeping it simple. People don’t want to be told what to drink, or how to drink it. They just want a strong black cup of coffee, maybe some milk and sugar on the side. We try to give people somewhere they can that is cosy, consistent, and the service is good. It’s important to make somewhere that not only the customer has a good time, but the staff enjoy coming to work too. We have some rough edges and we think that is what keeps us grounded — we hope we don’t exasperate too many people along the way, but at least we are giving people something authentic.

What are some of the main challenges doing business in the world of coffee?

Sustainability. It is important to know where the coffee comes from, who grows it, who roasts it, and how many miles is does to get to you. We knew we couldn’t take on that responsibility. But, in the same way we make ceramics and rely on our potters in the studio to be accountable for knowing each part of the process and to work to a high standard, we rely on St Martins Coffee, in Leicester, to make sure that our tea, coffee, and hot chocolate is sustainable and that everyone in the process from farm to cup is treated fairly.

How do you set yourself apart from the global coffee brands who dominate the market?

A pragmatic attitude towards coffee! We don’t necessarily want to make the best cup of coffee, but one that everyone can enjoy. Consistency is key for us. We hope to take out some of the expectation that can sometimes surround coffee that makes it too difficult to approach. The environment that we foster at Kiln is one in which coffee and tea is accessible and demystified. We like to keep it real.

Why do you think such a thriving café culture has emerged in the North East in recent years?

People are looking more and more to buy things closer to home, things that are locally produced, we think that this is related to café culture too. The community of cafes and establishments in the North East has built up around the advent of local roasters, butchers, and bakers. As the high street struggles and chain establishments loose revenue, we are finding the community to be much more discerning.

What proportion of your customers would you say come into the café to do work or for business purposes?

It is hard to say, but about a third.

Why do you think people prefer to do work in a café rather than the office?

Kiln would not exist if it wasn’t for me working in cafés. All of my best opportunities have come from connections with other people drinking coffee around me. I sold my first ceramics in a café, met Kin’s co-founder in café; I wrote licencing applications in a café, and most of my friends in Newcastle I met in a café. It’s a place where you choose to work, where as an office is somewhere that you are forced to work. You have a much higher degree of creativity in somewhere with lots going on around you. You feel like you’re part of something!

Do you think people will be more or less productive working from a café?

At Kiln, we mix café and ceramics workshop—it is odd how productive you can feel when you have a busy workshop to look onto.

Do you think giving people the opportunity to use the café as an office increases your revenues?  

For us, it is beneficial. We have the space where people can spend longer here without stopping others from using the café. But we understand that it might be more difficult for smaller spaces, as it can prevent them from turning over the tables and making a profit.

Are there any potential drawbacks to people using cafes as a place of work?

We’d say that most of the drawbacks have been overcome now. It has become culturally and socially accepted that people work in cafés and therefore those people should be accommodated.

If you could say one thing to the people who come into your café for business purposes, what would it be?

You don’t have to be cool to come here, just come and try the coffee. We don’t mind who are you and what you like, we have a bit of everything and what we have we really like.

The Kiln Ouseburn