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Iris & June

VICTORIA, LONDON, UK

Words: The Ozone Family

JODIE WHITELAW | OPENED: APRIL 2014

What did you do before you opened Iris & June? 

I worked in Telco marketing. It was the typical corporate 9-5 job that paid well but left me with zero job satisfaction.

Why did you decide to open a coffee shop?

I always knew I wanted to own my own business and have always loved good food and coffee. I found myself becoming more and more interested in the process of producing good coffee beyond just drinking it. When some close friends asked James and I to do the food for the day after their wedding in Ibiza we thought it would be a nice thing to do for them and also good fun. So a mate who is a meat broker at Smithfields sorted us out with some top quality NZ lamb, which we froze and transported over in our luggage along with everything else. I was worried about how we’d get through customs, but being Ibiza, it was a breeze. They’re not really too concerned with people bringing in meat…! At the wedding, quite a few people said (probably jokingly) we should open a café, which I’d never even considered being an option. However, it planted the seed and from there I started taking steps to see if it was something I could realistically do. I started with a 10-week cooking course with Leith’s Cooking School in Hammersmith, which I did in the evenings after work. I then followed that with a barista course with the London School of Coffee. Dipping my toes in the water confirmed that coffee and food was something I could make a career out of and more importantly would enjoy. I left my marketing job and went and worked as a trainee barista. I learnt so much about coffee and also about running a café.

Can you pinpoint a defining moment when the dream turned into reality? The point of no return?

I guess signing the lease and handing over all your savings makes things pretty real. It’s definitely up there with the most stomach turning things you’re likely to ever do! However, we were so prepared, committed and ready to take the leap that it was also pretty exciting.

Is the reality reflective of your early dreams?

Yes it is. Physically, Iris & June is how I pictured it would be in terms of the look, feel and ambience we’ve created. Emotionally, being my own boss and working in an industry where I get to make people happy every day is completely reflective of my early dreams. Yes, there are tough times and it would be fair to say I’ve never worked so hard in my life, but it’s really satisfying work when it’s for yourself and you’re doing something you love.

We often hear about people’s mistakes in the early days. What did you get right from day one?

Staying focussed on what our mission was almost to the point of doggedness. Everyone wants to give you advice; especially customers (she smiles) and of course it’s well intentioned, but at the end of the day the good decisions have always been when we’ve trusted our instinct and stayed focussed on what we set out to do.

How did Ozone get involved?

We met James and Lizzie at a charity dinner when we were in the early stages of planning – it was just luck that we were seated on the same table as them. We kept in touch and although we met with many different coffee roasters over the subsequent months, when it came time to choose a supplier Ozone was top of our list. We loved their coffee; their experience in the industry was second to none and no other roasting company came close to providing the support and guidance I knew they would give us. This for me, as a café owner, would be the most important part of the coffee supplier relationship.

Taking learnings from various places I had previously worked, we designed the floor plan based entirely around the customer journey. It was paramount that the route from entering, paying, collecting your coffee and leaving again was easy, natural and as efficient as possible.

What are you going to be doing in 10 years?

I hope I’ll still be out on the floor working shifts with my team and that Iris & June is going stronger than ever, maybe in various different forms, but still rocking our mission to make people happy!

Biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge was, and remains, recruitment. The culture of the team is fundamental to success and hiring the wrong person can be a disaster. There seems to be a real shortage of quality hospitality staff (especially baristas) in London. It feels like it’s not a respected career option in the UK like it is in New Zealand or Australia and so you tend to get people that are just doing it to make ends meet, not because they love it. Trying to find good people that love working in the industry is so hard, yet so crucial, when your entire business relies on customer service.