Local: Joe Meagher, founder of Flat Caps Coffee

One of the best things to come out of this crisis is the way in which local communities are supporting local businesses. It’s because of this that independent operators could thrive and indeed, Joe Meagher of the ever-popular Flat Caps Coffee, tells Richard Dawson that he is extremely positive about the cafe’s long-term prospects

How has your business been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

As with all hospitality businesses we’ve had to close Flat Caps Coffee shop to our customers. We had considered opening for takeaway only as we have the set up to place a coffee machine at the front door but we decided against this as I was still concerned with managing social distancing in the queues and whether the perception would be that we were trying to bend the rules and taking unnecessary risks with our customer’s health. We decided it was best to close completely and safeguard against that.

What have been the main challenges you’ve faced?

Cash flow is the main challenge. Flat Caps is ten years old this year so being more established has meant we were lucky to have enough reserves to pay the staff on time as it took a while for the support to come through. We also wanted to make sure that our suppliers were paid in full for outstanding invoices so that we weren’t passing on the burden to them and I’m very pleased to say we managed to do that.

Have you diversified or changed your operations to enable you to continue trading?

We’ve set up an online store to sell coffee beans roasted in  the UK as well as from international coffee roasters and this is proving very popular. I’ve also taken the opportunity to look into past projects that I’d parked due to the coffee shop demanding so much of my time. I’ve organised our own house tea blend to be made and manufactured in plastic free, bio degradable tea bags, which once made, we’ll sell online in tins and as our house tea in Flat Caps once we’ve re opened. I’ve delved back into making tonic water and finding a manufacturer who can make and bottle it for me. But the thing I’m most excited about is exploring roasting my own coffee. I’ve invested in a small sample roaster to learn about roasting techniques and discover unique coffees from around the world and I hope to grow this so one day I can sell my own roasted coffee online and at Flat Caps.

Are you taking advantage of any of the Government’s support schemes? If so, which ones? Is there any additional support you’d like to see announced?

We received the small business grant which eventually helped with the cash flow. We are also applying for the furlough payments but as we speak we still haven’t received that and two months of wages have passed. Hopefully it will come through to redress the balance soon. My main concern for future support is how we can transition from being closed to fully operational again. I’m assuming there will be an in between stage and the safety of staff and customers is paramount and we’d like as much help and support as we can. I feel fortunate that Flat Caps is such a large open space as it will mean we can have social distancing a lot easier than some of the smaller independents. They’ve got some real challenges ahead on how they’ll protect everyone, we’re going to need support and advice to get through this.

What is your long-term outlook for the business?

I feel extremely positive about the long term prospects. We’re ready for the challenges that lay ahead of us and we’re open to being flexible and are able to adapt to the needs that we may not yet have established are required. We may be the oldest speciality coffee shop in Newcastle but we’re young enough to still have the energy and enthusiasm to do what’s needed. I’ve always felt that has been one of our strong points and I think it will help us through this recovery period.

Flat Caps Coffee