IAN BONE & MARK HUCKS | OPENED: SEPTEMBER 2015
What did you do before you opened?
IAN – I worked part-time at an independent coffee bar in Oxfordshire whilst in university. I then took on the role of head barista and worked across their (then four, now six) different branches to help maintain consistency. It was an incredible company to work with. Taking care of the social media & marketing as well as working on our own magazine, got me my design fix too. My interest in coffee definitely started there.
MARK – The two years before opening was mostly spent refurbing 81 Grove Road, which is now the shop and my home. A print business for the last 40 years and an old building, it was in need of a complete overhaul and this was my first experience doing anything like it. There were many challenges to overcome but it’s been completely worth it, with probably the greatest reward seeing the local community really embrace what we’re doing and gather here each day.
Why did you decide to open a coffee shop?
MARK – It was a fairly spontaneous decision in truth! One of my sisters has a coffee business, selling coffee at music festivals and about to launch a great coffee scrub. Helping her at festivals had sparked my interest in coffee and given me a basic knowledge of a working coffee business. So, when I saw a gap in a great neighbourhood for a meeting place dedicated to great coffee, I decided to give it a go.
Can you pinpoint a defining moment when the dream turned into a reality?
IAN – For me, it was probably when our bar was built, way before we opened. It was the first thing that truly defined the space. I remember standing behind it for the first time and thinking “Yeah, this will work for me.”
MARK – I think there were two main such moments for me. The first was meeting and partnering with Ian, and the two of us committing to give the business a go. I knew I had found someone who was truly passionate about coffee and who could actually deliver a great product. The second moment was on our very first day, when I was greeted by a busy shop, a queue of people and customers clutching stamped “HUCKS” coffee cups. I still find that surreal one year in!
How do you keep your team engaged and motivated?
IAN – Mark and I try to provide a lot of freedom for our team. Whilst product consistency across the team is key, it’s critical to me that the team we have are the same people during work as they are outside it. Creating a space that works for us and allows us to freely express who we are is just as important.
How do you keep yourself motivated now that the business is up-and-running?
MARK – With a small business I think there’s always stuff to learn and improve on, and we’re still doing new stuff all the time: whether that’s applying for a licence, partnering with local businesses, tackling the VAT threshold, hosting an all-female mariachi band or pioneering ‘crumpet toasties’! Up-and-running is just the start.
What did you get right in the initial stages?
IAN – Our offering. We were quite particular with what we wanted to stock and provide, regardless of whether it cost us a little bit extra.
MARK – A great team. No matter how good your coffee is, it’s a people business and our small team of baristas have done a great job at helping us achieve what we set out to do. From the outset, we have also placed a lot of weight on quality in everything we do and sell, whilst trying to be as accessible and as good value to our community as we possibly can. It can be a tough balancing act but it’s central to what we are trying to achieve.
How did Ozone get involved?
IAN – We met with quite a few coffee roasters before we opened. Mark and I managed to visit each one together… apart from Ozone. Typically, when I next spoke to Mark, I told him we’d found our coffee. A lot of the roasters that we met did ‘tick all the boxes’, but they didn’t tick them quite as attentively or meticulously as Ozone. Quality prevailed, and they showed a genuine interest in us and what we wanted to do. And despite our non-central location making it a little harder to visit, we still haven’t felt any less a part of the Ozone family.
What are your biggest challenges?
MARK – Balancing sustainability against offering value and consistently high quality products, service and events to all in our community. A happy challenge, it’s what the business is all about!