Once upon a time….around 2008, I fell in love with coffee. Specifically I fell in love with the process of making great tasting coffee. Watching a skilled barista carefully prepare and brew espresso then perfectly texture some milk and pour a pretty pattern. All the time engaging with their customers and sharing their knowledge and passion. Then I fell in love with the process of roasting coffee. Watching a roaster carefully monitor the changes in the coffee using their senses whilst it tumbled around inside a hot rotating oven powered by motors, belts and chains. These people were so skilled, so clever. Seeing all of this happen in one place with the cafe and roastery side by side was the pinnacle. I was lucky to witness all of this up close whilst living in Australia and I wanted to be like them.
Fast forward a few years and moving continents I had an idea to start roasting my own coffee and got my first ‘barista’ job, learning to handle the pressure of brewing to a line of waiting customers as well as learning the skills of when to engage and when to just serve. We’ve all seen good Baristas at work and the great ones are those that have this awareness. They’re the ones you want to be served by.
Fast forward another couple of years to 2014 and I started Crankhouse Coffee in my garage. It was supposed to be a maximum 6 months whilst I found a proper home for the business. 2 years went by and managing a small but growing business in such a confined space was becoming difficult. Alongside that the smell of roasting coffee was getting right up a neighbours nose and a nice man from the council told me it was time to move on. I found a converted barn on the outskirts of Exeter that was a perfect place to focus on roasting and growing the business and before I knew it the 3-yr break option in the 6 year lease was rapidly approaching,. To stay or to go.
During that time I’d been lucky enough to meet one of those great baristas, Tony Isaacs. He’d worked his way up to being cafe manager and head barista at Exeters leading specialty bakery-cafe The Exploding Bakery. With substantial growth on the baking side they moved that part of the business out to an industrial unit to increase production, which meant that it became a much more coffee focused specialty cafe using coffee from some of the best roasters in the UK and Europe. Now and again I was lucky enough to have my coffee served by Tony and his team.
Tony helped me out during my first Roasters Village spot at London Coffee Festival in 2017. Just the two of us, 4 days of non-stop service and chat. Absolutely knackering and exhilarating at the same time. We worked incredibly well together, recognising each others fluctuating energy levels and shared some short but quality (doughnut fuelled) down-time where we talked about the future.
Perhaps one day we could do something together.. perhaps.
Tony and his partner Rosie had a dream and a plan of opening their own cafe and bakery serving great coffee and delicious freshly baked goodies . I had a dream of having a cafe alongside my roasting business, where people could witness the processes and skills of baristas and roasters in one space.
The stars aligned and an amazing building became available on Fore Street in Exeters ‘West End’. Full of Indy food and clothes businesses and definitely the ‘cool’ part of town, away from the main shopping precincts and vanilla high-street shops. We went to see it together and the layout of the building couldn’t have been more perfect. Allowing for a dedicated roasting space, and separate cafe area on two levels joined by sweeping concrete ramp. Any visitors to the cafe would be able to look down on the roastery and see what makes coffee roasting and all it encompasses a magical process.
I signed the lease in October last year and moved the roastery to it’s new home. Getting operational was not without complications and significant time delays as well as expense but Crankhouse was back up and running by late November. Tony and Rosie started working on decorating and fitting out the cafe space and adjoining ‘public’ areas all requiring significant electric and plumbing works as well as building a bespoke coffee and kitchen area. I surprised Tony by having some custom paint work done on the coffee machine and new grinders to match. It all looks amazing.
We had to decide on how this would work best for us all from both a personal and business perspective and we setup a new and separate business ‘130 Basement’ with 4 directors under the management of Tony and Rosie. It was their project, vision and hard work that brought the cafe to life.
COVID-19 put a hold on the cafe opening but I was lucky to continue operating Crankhouse and witnessed an amazing increase in on-line sales with new and existing customers taking home-brewing seriously during lockdown. A few hours roasting in the morning, and a few hours packing in the afternoons has been my routine for the past 10 weeks. All the time with the cafe empty.
Until this week. On Monday the doors opened to ‘130 Basement’ for takeaway only and already there’s a vibe in the place and around town about the new ‘cool’ spot. Tony and Rosie have had a soft opening that you could never have planned and they’re smiling from ear to ear. They have their dream.
I now have a cafe alongside the roastery showcasing the best and most interesting coffees that come through Crankhouse, served by a great barista alongside some delicious pastries and cakes. It'll have some exclusive coffees that won't be available to purchase elsewhere as well as the rare or competition grade coffees.
I’m still in love with coffee.
Oh, the 4th director.. it’s the person that encouraged me to embark on this journey , allowed me to ‘borrow’ money from our mortgage to start a business and has supported me every step. I love her more than coffee.