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David Abrahamovitch

David Abrahamovitch


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.

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@grind

Soho Grind

Soho Grind


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Manu Zafra


A summer morning, the sun shines on London. Kept cool by the tall buildings opposite on Beak Street a friendly welcome and smile set the tone. It’s going to be a great day. Exit through the Soho Grind. Sit in the picture window and watch Soho come to life.

“Soho Grind opened on May 2nd, 2014, in somewhere that we wanted to be. We couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Before we arrived, the building sold porcelain dolls, but we only know that because some rather peculiar-looking people have come asking about it.”

A supreme cappuccino kick starts the day. A few suits have jumped over from the hedge funds of Mayfair and tradesmen with calls nearby are clustered round the door: the barista, as good with the pleasantries as pouring a perfect coffee. The white brick wall interior, large jugs of water, cucumber, orange or lemon added, wait to be poured into beatnik glasses. Green touches high along one wall on shelves above a row of brass mirrors. The atmosphere is cool and fresh, and a summer breeze wafts in the open door.

“We’ve always found that the best staff find us. There’s a long culture of Aussies and Kiwis coming to the UK with two-year visas. We’re lucky to have built up enough of a reputation that they find their way to us. We’ve had a few baristas that have been pulling shots for us at the Grind having come through Heathrow arrivals the same morning.”

A red neon Espresso Bar sign hangs low in the window: ‘The Soho Grind’ in red, subtitles in black, ‘Coffee, Sex and Rock and Roll’ reads the cinema style hoarding. Inside though, it’s relaxed the music mellow, no drama. Except that one time the coffee exploded over the stressed out businessman.

Mid-morning; back at The Soho Grind. The croissants are freshly baked, plain, ham and cheese, just enough between breakfast and lunch. Out in Beak Street, the traffic is busier, a remarkable number of white vans pass the window. The door is shut now. Sit along the wall at the dark wood shelf that runs on the opposite wall from the counter. The custom stools, metal framed with Soho Grind built in to the struts. Round caramel padded discs to park on. A free magazine to glance through while you eat, and sip another cappuccino. In the window, Creative’s discuss projects, beards optional, this is Soho. Expensive jackets, trainers, and sweatshirts compulsory. They come and go, male and female two’s and three’s. Open laptops, overheard words occasionally. Investment, development, projects, apps, shoots, release dates, Soho’s media village coffee stop: A steady flow; never too busy.

“Our designer is based in Melbourne and all the stools and light-fittings were designed and made bespoke there, before being sent around the world to us in Soho.” As it gets near mid-day, the sun, high in the sky beats in the large window. Early bird Asians start congregating and queuing out on the narrow pavement for meat, a lunch table inside, next door at Flat Iron. At The Soho Grind the red, white and green filled ciabattas are being stacked up on the counter: Mozzarella, Tomato, Pesto. Bowls of healthy salads are being brought up from downstairs. Italian tourist families in Belstaff jackets glance in the window, peer up at the sign, walk back to the door and decide not to come in.

I first encountered the Grind at Old Street roundabout in Shoreditch, East London. Ignored by a directional Emo Phillips haircut in skinny jeans for what felt like 10 mins. After curt service, eventually the coffee was good. The Holborn Grind was more business-like, busy and straightforward, no quirks, like the area it sits in. The Soho Grind was cool, and drew me back. It became a regular spot.

By lunchtime it’s as busy as it can be. Lucky to find a stool. It’s a hustle and bustle as friends and colleagues meet and eat. Quickly, conversations, start and stop, change subject, and leave. The tempo of the music has picked up, wonky house, abstract but still in the key of calm.

Early afternoon, late lunch, most of the sandwiches have gone, the stack depleted. Cold in the summer, but toasted in winter. Salami, rocket, mozzarella. In autumn afternoons the red neon glows inside. ‘French lessons given downstairs x’, reads the neon sign on the wall above the staircase. The small basement offers a cosy den for clandestine afternoon meetings out of sight, and holds a secret all of its own. In the 1960s, Soho was infamous for the ‘walk-ups’ to hidden brothels or strip clubs hidden away from the street. ‘French lessons given’ was a popular innuendo for marking these out.

Late afternoon, the last drop-in of the day, another caffeine hit, a flat white, and maybe one of the mini-cream filled croissants or chocolate filled little pastries. Unobtrusive, staff chat amongst themselves, surprisingly focused, it’s about work. Sometimes they talk about travels, places they’ve been, where they’re from, where they’re going. Music volume rises as the day unfolds, a bit of reggae, some hip-hop beats, and a raggle taggle of Libertines. It gets lively, but it never gets too loud. Opposite in the street, an “agency” photographer appears with an overdressed, aspiring “model”. No qualms about posing suggestively in a Soho doorway. “In the last few years, we’re seeing more and more UK-born baristas. Our Head of Coffee, Sam, was born in the UK now he trains and certifies all our baristas to the Grind standard.”

Pass in the early evening; it’s still open, bathed in the red of Soho’s night lights. Smiling faces sit in the window, young girls laughing looking forward. Blonde hair, red lips and black hats. First stop for nocturnal Soho night birds. Exit the Daily Grind.

Then later one night, everything changed. The rain made the streets of Golden Square shine. Only just visible, as I headed up Lower James Street, was the familiar red glow. As I got nearer I could see the bulbs suspended on black wires, their fast scratch, visible elements contrasting against the red which bathed the rectangular room. White flames on candles in old crystal chimed with the lights. A metal tray turned over and propped up, in the window. Written on it opening hours I had never noticed before: “7.30 am- 11.30pm” and “Cocktails and Tapas“.

“You’re not normally open this late are you?” I asked the late shift. The new and different staff now, unfamiliar, who all wore white shirts: “Just since we opened the cocktail bar downstairs.” Was the answer that surprised me as I ordered a mocha, thick and sweet, small but filling. I glanced along the bar at Iberico Ham, bowls of green olives, and a tub of beer bottles on ice. Cool I thought but not what I was expecting.

“In the evening: a menu of traditional aperitif and cold meats, alongside some more modern dishes of our own, an after-work espresso – and an escape from the bustle of central London nightlife.” The atmosphere still felt the same upstairs and looking round everyone was still drinking coffee. I take a mental note in my mind’s notebook to drop back when night manoeuvres are on the agenda. I stand up, drink up, zip up my Jacket as I exit through the Soho Grind.