Words Kirk Truman
Portraits Dan Court
“We were good customers, with experience in what mattered. We understood what looked good, what felt right and what worked…”
Since his father died unexpectedly five years ago, leaving him with a dwindling mobile phone business on the Old Street roundabout, David Abrahamovitch has gone on to become one of the leading entrepreneurs on London’s café scene. Breathing new life into his father’s old phone shop – from which Shoreditch Grind was born – was just the start of David’s journey, one fuelled by passion for the coffee industry and a sense of possibility.
As we sit and discuss the ever-expanding Grind & Co., David demonstrates his newly developed Grind App, which enables customers to order their coffee en route and skip the queue. “It defaults to your nearest location; you select your coffee and customise it ready for collection,” he says. “It’s taken us so long to develop this. It’s primarily developed for takeaway, for the Londoner on the go.” He sips a piccolo as I down a flat white in the basement of Soho Grind. David, who’s also featured in Investec Private Banking’s Restless Spirits campaign, has his life centred around Soho and the West End; we discuss evenings spent at Soho House, the changing face of Beak Street and the café scene in the neighbourhood.
He was born into an entrepreneurial family. His father, also called David, operated a mobile phone business and bought the domain name mobilephones.com – a valuable asset – in the 1990s. On completing an economics degree at University College London, David helped found legal claims firm InterResolve, beginning his love affair with creating things. He met his business partner Kaz James, DJ and former band member of BodyRockers, at King’s Cross nightclub The Cross, and their friendship became the foundation of a new venture. Even with no previous experience in hospitality, the two were ambitious, with Australian James seeking to bring Melbourne’s café culture and love of independent coffee to London and David determined to take on major chains like Starbucks.
Their fledgling venture begun to take shape at what had been David’s father’s phone shop on the Old Street roundabout. “Essentially, my father left me with a declining mobile phone firm, that I had to turn around,” says David. “I worked in there when I was 13 with my Dad selling phones. After meeting Kaz, it became our first outlet, Shoreditch Grind. Kaz always went on about the coffee shops back home in Melbourne, and he and I joked about doing it here. Personally, I felt the building I’d inherited was a wasted opportunity. A number of times we had the conversation about turning it into a cafe or a bar, which turned into us opening a coffee shop.” This was nearly five years ago, before the boom in independent cafés, when if you knew what a flat white was you were in a minority.
Despite their inexperience David and Kaz were confident, believing they knew how to create a successful and popular café environment. The refit of David’s fathers shop began, with Shoreditch Grind opening in June 2011. “We were clueless about running a café. But we were good customers, with experience in what mattered. We understood what looked good, what felt right and what worked,” says David. “We obsessed over the coffee, though there was so much we didn’t get right at first – and that’s why we built a team to help master those things. We employed young, interesting and vibrant people, who brought so much to the place. At first, we got the coffee right, but most of all the environment and vibe were key to the success of Shoreditch Grind.”
With the success of their first incarnation, David sought outside investment in order to fund the growth of Grind & Co. Settling on a deal with John Ayton (founder of Links of London) and private equity veteran Diarmid Ogilvy, David received an investment that topped £1M, and the planned expansion went ahead. Though admittedly Grind & Co. is a chain, David has stuck to his original vision of an independent cafe and aesthetic across all the Grind sites, with each new branch as on-trend as the others. To date, there are six shops across London, stretching from Shoreditch to Borough Market, and from Covent Garden to Holborn. In Soho, of course, there are two separate incarnations. A café by day and a speakeasy styled bar in the evening, Beak Street’s Soho Grind is one of the few places you can get a caffeine high by day and a decent tipple in the evening. Last summer saw the opening of Soho Grind X Soho Radio on Great Windmill Street, continuing Grind & Co.’s policy of opening cafes with a difference.
Having begun with the goal of creating amazing coffee in the right environments and locations to match people’s lifestyles, Grind & Co. has gone from strength to strength, moving from coffee to cocktails, to food, and now even a recording studio. David’s father is perhaps his greatest inspiration, and I can’t help but wonder what David Snr would think of the café that has replaced the shop where he once sold mobile phones alongside his young son. With their Royal Exchange site due to open in May this year, Grind & Co. looks to continue its expansion London-wide, with David expressing an interest in opening a Grind outpost in the US.