Words Kirk Truman
Photography Adedotun Adesanya
“…this idea was constantly at the back of my mind, I thought it was a great opportunity to open a café that was similar to places back home in Australia. I wanted to follow my dream.”
There is a rumour on Great Titchfield Street, circling from door-to-door amid the winding smell of the roasted Square Mile Coffee and the delicious fresh food that pleasantly lingers around door number 66. Amid the evening chatter that goes from glass to glass, outside The Kings Arms, over the busied table tops of The Riding House Café, the rumour flows and it grows. All over London people step from their houses and desk fronts into the day to say, ‘let’s have us some caffeine,’ meanwhile, in Fitzrovia, it is rumoured that people say ‘let’s have us some Kaffeine.’ Peter Dore-Smith tells me the story behind his award-winning Australian coffee shop over a famed cup of Square Mile Coffee.
After working in restaurants and hotels back in his home city of Melbourne, Peter first came to London for a three year long stay in 1995, he returned in 2005 when a simple idea came to the minds of he and his wife: ‘let’s go for a nice cup of coffee’. However, Peter tells me that “at the time there really wasn’t many places around that were similar to places in Australia, we thought it was an idea for the future.” Having decided to settle permanently with his wife in London, he worked in hospitality recruitment for a little while and after some time began to work in the catering department at the Marylebone Cricket Club, where he was for about 4 years. “I had to make a decision about what I wanted to do with my life – this idea was constantly at the back of my mind, I thought it was a great opportunity to open a café that was similar to places back home in Australia. I wanted to follow my dream,” he says. And so, the makings of this idealistic dream began its manifestation into a reality.
It is explained to me that, in recent years, unlike we Londoners, drinking coffee in cafés has become a favoured alternative to drinking alcohol as a means of socialising in Australia. Peter explains that this influx derives from the idea of drinking and driving being frowned upon so much there. Thus, unlike chain coffee vendors, such as Starbucks, where people generally get take-out coffee, in Australia, coffee is served in addition to a meal. “In terms of starting points, the concept for Kaffeine reflects the Australian coffee scene which arrived in Melbourne in the mid-1990s through to today. This is something that is very current in London now.”
The Great Titchfield Street site for Kaffeine was sighted by Peter’s wife who, at the time, worked in the Fitzrovia area. After fidniding the place, she told her husband, “there’s a shop up the road that’s up for rent, you should take a look!” Until the late 1990s, the site for the café had once been Frumkin’s Wine Shop, where they sold kosher wine to mainly Jewish functions. Having had their first store in the East End, the Frumkin’s name has become relatively famous within the Jewish community. After the business closed, the site became a café named Route 66. “It closed in August 2008 – I came in and there was a newspaper from the day it closed. The owner had left almost everything here. It was pretty dire. I think it’d been a café for sometime,” Peter says. I detect that, really, there is very little that’s worthy of compliment to the predecessor at number 66. Few seem even to remember it.
Peter details to me the enormity of the tasks involved in taking over the premises and making his Kaffeine dream a reality. At this stage, the emotional support and guidance of silent investor, Hayden Smart, was called upon and the idea was turned into a reality. The flooring was removed to expose the beautiful original wood, the concrete on the walls was also removed and the brickwork underneath restored to its former glory – all in the name of creating a fresh minimal environment with an original organic touch. Echoing a typecast Australian coffee shop, long wooden benches now sit alongside a long black bar filled with a range of salads and sandwiches which stretch on to meet a barista pouring cup after cup of Square Mile Coffee. I ask Peter where the name for Kaffeine came from. “I don’t know what it means or where it came from. I didn’t come up with the name, either my wife or a friend did. I’ve had people say that they wish they’d thought of it first,” laughs Peter. “To me, Kaffeine means hospitality. It’s about doing everything we can to get things perfect every time. When people come in, no matter how they’re feeling when they leave they’ll feel better. That’s our goal”.
After an extensive face-lift, the doors to number 66 reopened in August 2009. Kaffeine was instantly well received, impartially due to Square Mile Coffee having just come onto the scene, not to mention the need for something so niche in the area. There was a strike of fear in Peter’s mind when an urban myth was told to him by a number of people: that the shop is cursed! “People told us that nobody does well here, that the shop was cursed!” Despite an estranged urban myth, Peter and his coffee shop are yet to succumb to the jinx of number 66, Great Titchfield Street.
“I first identified the sort of people that would be attracted to the product, which, of course, is good decent coffee, salads and sandwiches. I thought about the kind of people that I would enjoy serving and identified those people as fashion, media, advertising, design and digital orientated people,” he says, on choosing Fitzrovia as the home for his business. Many of the regulars can be seen donning their BBC lanyards from the neighbouring Regent Street Headquarters – there are whispers of journalism, news, tales and a variety of professions. A distinct aura of creativity from the residents looms among the local, often familiar faces seated about the ground floor. The arrival of Kaffeine was welcomed immediately; people soon began to flock and become regulars astonishingly quickly. Although much of the business comes from the local area, Peter tells me that “at the weekends we get a lot of people from out of town coming in. We also get a lot of international visitors who have heard about us internationally to see if it is as good as people say.” I am told how a lady came into the shop on the first Saturday of business to welcome Peter and his staff to the area. She said, “Welcome to the area, we call this Titchfield village. What she said was very true; there is a very ‘village’ feeling to Fitzrovia. It’s nice and quiet, especially on weekends.”
Today this small independent coffee shop has established itself as one of the West-End’s most popular and renowned destinations for award-winning coffee and freshly made food. With its reputation stretching across London, Europe and even back to Peter’s homeland in Australia, visitors are coming from all over the globe. “Perhaps I’m a bit humble about it. The way I look at is, there’s still 20 years to go, and I’m currently 44. Apparently people back in Australia say, when going for coffee in London, ‘go to Kaffeine.’ One of my beliefs is, never believe that you’re the best, though we do aspire to be the best!” Peter says. A committed father of two, Peter Dore-Smith is highly family focused and, with some further emotional support from his wife, is intent on broadening the future of his independent coffee shop, with plans to open a second site in London in the near future. His passion is balanced in the bond of family, the meaning of quality, hospitality and only ever the very best Kaffeine-highs available. As they say: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ There are no lows here, only good coffee and food. Hopefully, another Kaffeine shall arrive in Fitzrovia in the years to come. Watch this space.