Author: Rebecca Wooden
This year we celebrate 20 years at Climpson & Sons. We've taken the opportunity to get nostalgic with our old friends and colleagues. Here we catch up with Rachel and Matt Ho, who started Craving after working at Climpsons.
We’ve loved watching ex-Climpsons fly the nest and go on to further their careers in coffee, or start their own ventures in hospitality. A familiar story, Rachel and Matt both arrived at Climpson’s from Australia. Matt found his feet in his first roasting job at the old spot on Broadway Market Mews, as well as taking a stint on the Broadway Market cart (it’s a Climpsons rite of passage). Rachel joined the team in the Arch days - heading up our events calendar to run supper clubs, residencies and gigs. Since then they’ve set up Craving in Tottenham. It’s a buzzing community space, with indoor and outdoor seating where Matt heads up the kitchen with a fresh ramen and Asian fusion menu. Also as a wholesale customer of Climpsons, we’ve gotta say, the coffee is pretty good too.
I caught up with Rachel and Matt on a summer’s heat-wave afternoon at Craving on Markfield Road. The place is buzzing, with the sound of people enjoying each other's company. Throughout our conversation, friends and team members dip in and out, Rachel and Matt smile and wave to regulars. The community is truly felt here and you can sense how important this space is to the neighbourhood. Here’s some highlights from our chat where the nostalgia kicks in from those Climpson’s Arch days as I found out more about the challenges of setting up their own business.
(As we start the interview, Matt’s just finishing up the final orders from a busy lunch service)
How did you get involved with Climpson & Sons?
Rachel: We moved to London in 2010 from Adelaide. Matt was a hairdresser, but he had also worked in coffee and that was his real passion. So he was really wanting to get into the coffee industry in the UK and then this job came up with Climpsons as a trainee roaster. He started working there in August 2010, and that was right on the cusp of when Climpsons was starting to grow. They were in the little unit on Broadway Market Mews. And then it started growing, and growing, and growing. At one point he moved from roasting into sales and training. He was there for nearly 3 years. Climpsons was very grassroots and felt like a family. It had a really laid back kind of culture.
In 2013 I was looking for a change. I’d worked in disability for 12 years and we were also thinking of opening something ourselves in the future. Ian asked me to work for him doing events at the Arch. It was my first proper job in hospitality, so it was a bit of a steep learning curve having come from the HR and disability sector. I stayed there for about 10 months and then we opened Craving.
What sort of residencies did you have at Climpson's Arch when you were there?
So originally it was with Lucky Chip who were doing German food leading up to Christmas. And then Tomos Parry took over the kitchen from there, doing his own menu. He became head chef and not long after he won Young Chef of the Year.
(The last lunch orders have left the kitchen and Matt comes out to join us now)
Rachel: We’re talking about The Arch.
Matt: The Arch days!
R: We would do special supper clubs and a lot of booze related pop-ups. We would do beer tastings, spirits tastings, wine pairings with all different kinds of producers. We had a tequila night, a negroni night. We were trying everything and seeing what worked. We did a few music nights there as well. Ian was always open to trying different things and experimenting a little bit. There was quite a bit of creative freedom. It meant it was sometimes pretty chaotic, but it gave us freedom to try different things.
Going back to the roasting, in those early days on Broadway Mews, what was it like?
M: I remember my first day, Danny was amazing, instead of showing me how to do something, or doing it for me, he just got me to do it. He got me to clear the chaff, that was my first job. And he was just like, off you go and I was on my hands and knees, getting into it. I remember sample roasting in the little courtyard too.
R: And then you went and bought the big roaster.
M: That was before we moved to the Arch. Ian found a probat, and we went and picked it up in a van. It’s still, I think, the best job I’ve ever had. I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Ian’s fearlessness with new ideas. He always had lots of projects going on. You can see that from how many different projects have come from it.
R: His brain works slightly differently to the average person. He used to always send me messages of ideas. He’d go out for dinner and send me a picture of the menu or a cocktail. Same with Danny as well, he’s got a million ideas going around too.
M: I remember there was this time when Danny came up with this roasting profile sheet. He was really proud of it and it changed everything. With the roasts, we started going minute by minute, checking the temperature increase or decrease.. I remember it being quite a big deal at the time. It was all manual back then, but it was really accurate and consistent. For the last 3 or 4 minutes of the roast it would be going up 1 degree every 15 seconds like clockwork. I’m getting all reminiscent talking about it.
Do you miss roasting?
M: Yeah I liked it. It was very linear. You’ve got however many kilos to roast in a day, you let it rest overnight and then you pack it the next day. That was the cycle. With that knowledge I still feel like I could roast now, using that set up. It was good stuff. It’s good to see how much it’s grown as a business too.
Quite naturally as well. I know a lot of other coffee businesses have expanded pretty fast but for us, it’s been very organic.
M: It’s a real DIY ethic that I think is probably still there. I learnt so much. There were days when we were pulling apart the roaster and servicing parts of that, pulling apart the bearings. I learnt how to fix coffee machines too.
M: Have you talked about the music thing we did? The Coffee Revolution?
R: That was Ian’s idea as well.
M: There were lots of musicians around in the coffee scene, so we put on a gig at Notting Hill Arts Club. That was back when we were playing in a band. And then all these bands of coffee people played as well. I think some of them are still going.
How about a reunion? I wanted to ask about you, what made you want to start your own business?
R: You were at Union at that point and you were a bit?
M: Disenchanted. By the number of coffee shops that didn’t care about coffee. I’d met a lot of people in the industry. We had talked about doing it for a long time. We started as a coffee cart.
R: We’d been living in Tottenham for about 4 or 5 years by then and there were no other coffee shops so we thought we should do something close to home. We looked at a few sites and then the opportunity came up across the road in an arts studio. We took lots of inspiration from our days at Climpsons for sure.
M: And it’s evolved from there.
R: We had that similar kind of approach where we would experiment, see what works, see what people were doing but also try to keep ahead of the curb a little bit. I think that’s what Ian, Danny and Nicole have always been good at, pushing things ahead of the curb. So that’s what we’ve taken, that ethos, maybe we do it slightly differently, a bit safer maybe, and a bit more structured.
That’s not a bad thing!
R: But tried to keep that creative, entrepreneurial spirit.
Matt, you’re running the kitchen at Craving now?
M: I dipped my toe in commercial kitchens before. When we were doing pop-ups, there was a month where we didn’t have a trader so I did a pop-up with Malaysian food. Doing 100 covers, that kind of thing. I used to do some pop-ups with Beavertown as well. I’ve always loved cooking and it was the one area of this business that I didn’t understand completely.
Are you enjoying it?
M: Yeah. It’s hard work. There’s a lot of different elements. But I think from working in coffee there’s a similarity. You get a ticket and you’ve got to figure out your timings. It’s very structured. You need a good system. The good thing is, I don’t have to keep a conversation going whilst having 10 tickets on. The building we’re in now is run by a company called ten87 and they have a number of music studios, with a lot of professional musicians, sound engineers, and other music businesses working here.
The customers seem really nice. Do you know most of the people here?
M: We’ve had some nights where someone from the studios will do a DJ set.
R: We do dinner as well on Thursday and Friday nights.
M: Pre pandemic, we used to open 3 nights, and 7 days a week as well. Since then, we’ve gone to 5 days, and 2 nights.
R: It gives us the downtime to do those other jobs that you don’t always get time for.
M: And it gives everyone a weekend off.
Have you got any events lined up?
R: We’ve got the Markfield Road festival on the 9th to the 11th September. It’s an arts and music festival with venues on the road, live music, DJs, open studios, talks, lots of different stuff happening. We’re gonna be open every night and every day, but we’re going to have live music on the Saturday and we’re curating the line-up for the Sunday.
That’s a date for the diary. Thanks to Rachel and Matt for sharing their old Climpson’s stories with us. Do go see them for a visit on Markfield Road in Tottenham. Coffee, food and drinks every Thursday through Monday day times, plus dinner every Thursday and Friday night.
Craving location: 39B Markfield Road, London, N15 4QA