The Grind in London has become synonymous with good coffee and, after that morning rush of lattes and flat whites, Espresso Martinis. From their first site off Old Street roundabout it’s grown into a group that dominates the London coffee and cocktail scene and now has taken its first steps in the world of restaurants.
Following the launch of its Exmouth Market site, which coincided with the announcement that Kyle Boyce, former Soho House Group Executive Head Chef (non-members restaurants) had been appointed Executive Head Chef for The Grind group, we went to find out how a small coffee shop in Shoreditch grew to have sites from Soho to Clerkenwell and down to Whitechapel, all while maintaining a distinct neighbourhood vibe.
I arrived at the Exmouth Grind on a chilled Monday morning a few minutes before David Abrahamovitch, its co-founder, walked through the door. Having already tried out the new food menu here on Friday, alongside a healthy selection of their cocktails, I already knew I loved the space and its offering. So today it was just a flat white, a notepad and a pen that adorned the table.
David, and his business partner Kaz James, had their start in the hospitality world under unlikely circumstances. They’re not bartenders, baristas or chefs, but rather David had inherited a failing business on the Shoreditch Grind site that had to be closed. Rather than giving up the lease, for a prime site off Old Street, they took a tentative step into an unknown world. Inspiration for the way Shoreditch Grind works as a hub and hangout space as well as a pit stop for caffeine came from a world trip off the back of the Bodyrocker’s hit song I like the way you move. Well, I did say unlikely circumstances didn’t I? It turns out Kaz is a DJ in the group and having travelled the globe together the two friends were inspired by places that were more than your typical Costa or Starbucks.
“Shoreditch Grind is a place to hang out,” says David. “You don’t just go there for coffee – and throughout us expanding, that hasn’t changed at all. But when we first opened we were kicking people out at 6pm and that seemed silly. In a way we got into serving Espresso Martinis and staying open later almost without trying.”
The secret to their success with the classic drink was using the same coffee as went into their lattes and macchiatos.
“We were never cocktail experts but we had state of the art coffee equipment and were putting all our energy into coffee, so the resulting Espresso Martini was always going to be head and shoulders above anything else.”
The way it works when you order an Espresso Martini at a Grind location is it goes through the same process as if you had ordered an espresso at 9am.
“We came at it as customers, rather than people who were in the business already and tried to figure out how to do it with as high a standard as possible and fast without fuss. That’s our brand DNA – not too much fuss. “
Now the cocktail menu has expanded beyond Espresso Martinis you’ll find simple, well-made classics on the list. From Negronis to Tommy’s Margarita these drinks are everything that a complex cocktail served in a wellington boot that you’ve waited 25 minutes for isn’t. Put simply, they’re clean and tasty.
“A cocktail should taste better than it looks and be affordable. We want people to stay and have five,” says David.
Today the group has venues in Covent Garden, Royal Exchange, Whitechapel, London Bridge, Soho, Holborn, Shoreditch, Clerkenwell and Exmouth Market. It was when they opened London Bridge, however, that food started to seep into the formula.
“When I went and viewed the London Grind site I took it instantly, I just knew we had too. It was too big to just do coffee and cocktails so we started with a small food offering and now it has grown to primarily be a restaurant and bar. We smash an unbelievable amount of avocados and poach an unbelievable amount of eggs across our sites each day now while dinner has become a mix of British / Australian and Italian cuisine that focuses on seasonal, fresh and changing menus while still embodying a neighbourhood spot.”
After London Bridge the next few sites, including the flagship Clerkenwell and the smaller Exmouth Market all included kitchens and then work was done on some of the original ones to expand them. Almost overnight The Grind went from one venue doing food to half the group. Which is why Kyle Boyce was brought on board.
“Kyle’s first menu is here in Exmouth market,” says David. “And we’re really excited to have him.”
From Exmouth Market the final launch this year has been Whitechapel, but then intention now is to slow down and catch their breath.
“We started January 2016 with four sites, and now have nine plus the roasting site. So we need to stop opening for a while and go back to focusing on the coffee, the cocktails and the food. Last year was a test, I wouldn’t want to open any faster, otherwise you end up in Pizza Express territory.”
For now, The Grind is offering London relatively unique in terms of its coffee quality, its relaxed style dining and its short, sharp and fun drinks list. Each venue, with its own personality, is the café, bar and restaurant that David and Kaz want as customers and in this approach have created something we all want. Affordable, neighbourhood vibes with delicious things on the menu to order. It’s no wonder the group has expanded so well and kept true to that original site in Shoreditch.