Innovative Retailer – Paper & Cup

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The Name: Paper & Cup

The Place: Shoreditch, London E2 (and soon also in Mile End, London E3)

The Story: Mixing hospitality and charity is not easy. Well-meaning it may be but stylish it usually ain’t. Until now. Step forward Paper & Cup, recently opened by Diane Abbott MP, who quite rightly said it incorporates three of all of our favourite things: coffee, cake and sitting down for five minutes.

Opening day at Paper & Cup 

And the charity bit? It’s run by the Spitalfields Crypt Trust (SCT) and its main aim is to train people – who have ceased to be addicts – for a new profession – i.e. as a barista. But of course most people will buy coffee and meals from there without ever realising that fact. What they will notice is a quirky shop, which is actually full of charity shop goods but which very cleverly manages to repackage them as desirable vintage items. And it’s a library too.

It sounds very busy: It is a small unit but there is a lot going on. The real win in this is the input of the shop designers – Unkel who worked pro bono for the SCT and ‘curated’ shall we say the items for sale in the shop as well as designing the whole interior, and sourcing the goods – the whole shebang in fact.

You can curate a charity shop? Oh yes. The (wo)men from Unkel trawled through the good, the bad and the ugly in the charity’s shops all over East London and said ‘see those seventies-style melamine tea cups, we’ll have those.’ And what wouldn’t sell for £1.50 in Canning Town gets snapped up in the Shoreditch Triangle for 10 times that.

It’s a funny old world: Its horses for courses. The core clientele are trendsters, web designers, media types, people with asymmetric haircuts. And Brent Clark who wanted it to be as far away from a charity coffee shop as possible so these are the people he needed to attract. And so far so good, the shop is averaging nearly £400 a day which is much better than the planned projections.

And who is Brent Clark? The man who runs special projects for SCT. He has form when it comes to profitable ideas. He set up YourTime – a painting and decorating firm – where all the employees are ex-addicts, and it now has a turnover of £120k per annum. But the women on the programme wanted something else to do so he came up with Paper & Cup.

Paper being the books? Yes, the shop is full of books and you can read them as in a library or buy them. They are also from the charity’s shops, but again curated by Unkel, and Clark also gets brand new slightly damaged books direct from publishers.

He sounds like he is good at getting things? You said it. And his biggest find on this project was to get Vincent Mckevitt on board. The founder of the Tossed restaurant chain has been mentoring the project for a year and at every turn has forced commerciality to the top of the agenda. Again working for nothing he has secured the project favourable rates and may even take on some of the apprentices training there.

How so? After a year he will interview every single one of them and on merit alone will offer a job to the ones who pass his muster. He is opening Tossed outlets at a rate of knots and cannot find any English people who want the work in them so taking on SCT trainees who may not have been paid to work for many years would be a win-win situation. But of course if the chain takes off then some of them will be snapped up internally.

Is that a plan? It’s certainly a desire. The trainees work as volunteers and only the team leader and the manager are paid. But Clark wants to start putting the volunteers into those paid positions as soon as a year is up.

Yes, they do cakes

OK, that’s enough goodwill. Can we talk about cakes now: Certainly. The cakes are local and some are baked by individuals just in their spare time, the bread is local from Flour Station, in fact almost all the food on offer is from that part of London. Love Jam Kitchen from Bow provides the preserves and you can spend a lifetime going through the different teas and coffees. It runs seamlessly through breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. Someone has properly thought this concept out.

Well, as long as it doesn’t get overrun with dreadful bankers: Hold on there, those ‘dreadful’ bankers financed it. State Street Bank and Barclays Corporate teams to be precise. And very grateful Clark is. As he says ‘addiction struggles to get money’ so hats off to them.

So truly innovative then? Yup. It redefines what ‘charity shop’ means and looks like, and gives you the feeling of doing good whilst indulging yourself. We couldn’t think of another shop doing it. And the outlook is confident as you can see from the fact that Clark has already signed on the dotted line for Paper & Cup number two down Mile End Way, and this time with Lexington Catering in partnership. Scheduled to open on December 1 –  just in time for some Christmas cheer.

Cor blimey. He’s found another outlet one month after opening the first one? Like I say, the idea’s got legs and he is running with it. Now, is there any more of that melamine anywhere about?

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