Tag Archives: meet the trader

#BrixtonBonus – Meet the Winner: Zoe

Zoe Adjonyoh, who runs Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen in POP Brixton, won the March draw of the Brixton Bonus. She joins the small crowd of winners, who are featured in our Winners Gallery – have a look! And make sure you get some Bonus tickets before the next draw on 29th April – who knows, it could be you next time! Better yet, set up a recurring entry to never miss a chance for a Brixton Grand – and get some extra goodies as a reward from us.

B£’s apprentice Dominic had a chat with Zoe about Brixton, her business, and how she plans on spending her B£1,000:

When did you first come to Brixton?

I used to come to Brixton a lot as a kid, when my Dad emigrated from Ghana he lived in Brixton with his Aunt at the time. I grew up in Woolwich but later on when I was a student, Brixton was a good destination to go out for parties.

So what are your favourite things to do in Brixton?

Before I started the business I liked going clubbing and dance nights too but now I don’t have much free time to socialize, so when I do I like to get a cocktail from Seven. I also go into the village when I can to have dinner at Fish Wings and Tings. I also just like walking around Brixton, when I go down into the market I just enjoy chatting to the people in the market.
Brixton is a very vibrant, fun, friendly place and that’s why people want to come here.

What major changes have you seen from when you first came to Brixton to now?

I think Brixton has changed substantially, it used to have a vibe in the 80s and 90s where there was a lot of tension; race politics was a big deal, not just in Brixton but in lots of places across London where there was a strong black community. Race relations with the police weren’t great and it was a period of change for how people addressed those issues, a lot of stuff happened in the 80s politically, not just in Brixton, that forced changes for the better. In my mind Brixton has always been very colourful and live and energetic and that is still true today, but we have seen a migration into Brixton from other parts of London and other parts of the UK: the demographic has changed slightly, there are more people here with more spending power.

Do you think that’s a good or a bad thing?

I think when it’s balanced it’s okay, it’s ok to have new money coming in, but you don’t want that to happen at the expense of the people already living here, which is difficult. What’s great about Brixton is how community minded it is, which is quite rare in London. It thinks of itself as a community, and even people that come into Brixton respect that community and that’s important. Brixton has become a destination for people to go out, eat good food, listen to good music and celebrate all of the colourful things that Brixton provides culturally.

There’s always going to be a downside to “progress” because unfortunately when a destination becomes a popular place to go to, the knock-on effect is that there are rent increases and value of land gets higher, and that prices out a lot of people that have been in Brixton potentially all their life. It links to what’s happening with Brixton Arches, businesses that have been there for 20, 30 years are under threat for financial reasons. And you would hope that some consideration is put into keeping cornerstones of the community alive rather than bulldozing everyone out just to get more money out of residents.

Is it progress? I don’t know, but it’s definitely development which is always going to have controversies surrounding it. What’s great about Pop Brixton is the idea that we are occupying land that was empty beforehand so we haven’t displaced any other businesses or anything else. I think every business in here, especially through the giveback scheme, is really concerned not to be disharmonious with the Brixton community. I in particular want to be part of it, it’s important for me and it’s important for my business. It’s the thing with displacing people in communities in favour of financial gain.

Where did your interest in cooking come from?

I’ve always been curious about food, I’ve always loved eating food and cooking for people and particularly Ghanaian food. My Dad used to come home with traditional Ghanaian ingredients that were mysterious and exotic and I was intrigued and wanted to know more about it and wanted to know how to cook it. It was also a strong link for me back to those cultural roots in Ghana because we didn’t have any Ghanaian relatives in London. Both my parents are immigrants so we were quite a small family and didn’t have any extended family to speak of. We didn’t have access directly to that cultural heritage, so the food was a way in and something that I connected with and it’s just grown and grown.

When did you first decide you wanted to open a restaurant?

I’ve been doing Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen since 2011, I started doing supper clubs, event catering and street food, and we still do all those things. Pop Brixton is our first proper restaurant space.

Did you always plan to open a restaurant from a young age?

No, I never had an ambition to become a cook or a restaurateur or anything like that. It’s been a peculiar journey but an exciting and interesting one. It’s been a very organic process I didn’t decide one day I wanted to do – this just kind of kept happening.

So how did you get into it?

It started one day when I set up a little stall outside my house selling a dish which is basically peanut butter stew or soup which is a Ghanaian dish. I used to cook it a lot for my friends, it’s one of my favourite foods that I ate growing up. So one day when there was a festival going on in my neighbourhood I thought I might be able to make some money and it proved very popular and created a nice social gathering outside my house. People kept coming back and then wanted me to do it again, so the following year I turned my flat into a restaurant, I put in lots of tables and chairs and African fabrics and it had a real restaurant atmosphere. I called it Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen and we sold out every day for three days and were constantly full, people were trying to book and come back but I could not continue like that because it was my living room. I took down people’s email address so that next time, a few months later, I could notify people. From word of mouth it became more frequent and got some press, and then from there I started to be hired for catering and asked to residencies.

What would you say your business offers?

It offers tasty Ghanaian food at affordable prices in a restaurant setting. Our whole concept is about bringing food from Ghana and making it accessible; making as many people as we can possibly reach aware of how great the Ghanaian food and ingredients are, and just about celebrating food culture from Ghana. We do everything we can to support and raise the profile of food from Africa generally and specifically Ghana.

Where did the interest in the Brixton Pound come from and why did you accept it?

When I first got here I was very keen to take the Brixton Pound because I think it’s a great idea, it’s a great way of keeping money in the local economy and encouraging people to shop local, which is something that aligns with my ethos of how I want my business to function and run, and because it was so easily ready and available to sign up I decided to do it!

Do you have any other future plans or projects planned?

I’ve got quite a lot of different projects in the pipeline right now; we have a cookbook coming out in April next year, I’m opening a second space hopefully by the end of the year outside of Brixton. Possibly launch our own brand of sauces and ready meals so people can eat our stuff at home easily. The idea behind opening it here was to test what we do in a restaurant setting and see if it will be a viable business with a view to opening a full restaurant in the next year or two. We are looking at a couple of potential sites for the future so hopefully by next year I’ll be able to open a second space that probably has at least 20 or 30 covers.

What will you do with your Brixton Bonus winnings?

I haven’t decided yet, but I’m sure at some point it will be spent on a staff night out at a local bar or restaurant, and I may also use it to give the team bonuses.

Meet the Trader: Brixton Cycles

Brixton Cycles are one of Brixton’s longest running and most loved businesses, and a recent, much-appreciated addition to B£ pay-by-text businesses! We used to only be able to pay with paper notes there, but now the entire B£ team is bound to spend their salaries there… It started as a workers’ co-operative in 1983 on Coldharbour Lane, moved to a space in Stockwell in 2001, and just this week opened up their latest premises at 296-298 Brixton Road, by Loughborough Road. They also teamed up with Look Mum No Hands!  to run a cafe, so even if you don’t have a bike to fix, pop in for a coffee!

During their immensely successful crowdfunding campaign which made staying in Brixton possible, B£ had a chat with Lincoln, the longest serving member of Brixton Cycles, to find out a bit more about him and the business and what’s going on there at the moment.

Brixton Cycles

Brixton Cycles previous home on Stockwell Road

The new BC premises on Brixton Road

The new BC premises on Brixton Road

“26 years ago, by complete chance, I walked past one of the original Brixton Cycles members. I had met him before at the London to Brighton bike ride doing a repair spot. Unbeknown to me, they were looking for someone for the repair shop at Brixton Cycles. So it was only afterwards I found out that they had been talking about me being someone they should approach.”

“At the time I was a courier and I was getting a little bit burnt out. Back then, in the 80s, being a courier was really tough and stressful. I was getting a bit racked off with it and this seemed like a bit of an easier job, and also it was indoors. There’s nothing like being outdoors when it’s cold and raining. You can do one, but when it’s both, it’s just miserable. You couldn’t get any of that highly technical clothing you can now. It was all about having plastic bags inside of my shoes and so-called “waterproof” covers and jackets that didn’t actually work.”

Lincoln

Lincoln

“So here I am today, 26 years on, and it’s very different. In the sense that the people are different, the bikes are different, the cycling attitudes are different. It’s good seeing a complete change in that respect. But I also see people who I used to serve as kids – now coming to the shop all grown up, with their own kids, to get bikes!”

“Brixton itself has changed a lot as well. Back then Brixton always had this reputation of being a very dodgy area. People in the area thought: what are you talking about, it’s fine! But I guess from the outside it was a completely different view – which has now completely changed. It’s now very much “the place to be”, and it makes it harder for old businesses who have been here through all the hard times to survive, because the rents are so high. It’s scary. I keep hearing about old businesses that are getting a rent review coming up – and the biggest thing they fear is a rent review.”

“So we have to move, and the rent reality for us is that we are going to have to pay three times what we are paying now. And everything is taking so long! We are ready to take the next step in our story, but we just keep on getting held back by bureaucracy, that moving business, building, lawyer, paperwork, bureaucracy. It’s taking too long and it’s sucking the energy out of you – because we really want to put all of our drive and energy into a new space but every day is like another set back.” [Fortunately Brixton Cycles have finally re-opened in their new location as of beginning of March! – B£] 

Brixton Cycles team

The Brixton Cycles team

“I’m not against change or things getting revamped, but not to the extent where you get rid of things that made the area what it is. Bringing in people that just don’t get it. They come to an area that has a certain vibe, but what they don’t realize is that vibe is getting taken away and you are just left with nothing, which then becomes the norm. You need to integrate with what was there before, bring something to the table, rather than thinking, I’m too cool and I don’t have to be involved.”

“Eating in Brixton I’m a bit overwhelmed actually, because you just don’t know where to go – there is obviously quite a lot. I go into Brixton market and I feel like a stranger – and that’s odd, considering I lived here for most of my life, that it’s the same market I grew up in. I check it on the Friday or Saturday and I’m like, wow! I don’t even know 80% of the people here because of how popular it has got, and how the dynamics have changed. All these food places that are available now are quite interesting, but I do feel that I am just walking around looking at things and places I have never seen before.”

“I still cycle as much as I can as it’s a nice outlet. I go out on Sundays with the Brixton Cycles Club. What we try to instill there is to be courteous to other road users. You don’t want to be that club that is a bunch of dicks riding around with really inconsiderate cycling, particularly if it brings the whole of Brixton into disrepute. You will be cycling in Kent, Surrey, Sussex and the south coast, and you’ll have Brixton on your chest. The first thing you hear is “you cycled all the way from Brixton!” Some people will have a perception of where they think cyclists should cycle up to, they can’t comprehend you would cycle 50 miles. It’s actually an easy thing – not that I’m bragging.”

Brixton Cycles cycling club out and about

Brixton Cycles cycling club out and about

“I used to do a lot of music, I started off with vinyl, then I moved onto CDs, and recently I started using a controller and Serato. The very first record I bought was in Brixton around 1978, I was 11 or 12. There used to be a small record shop in the Reliance Arcade. Music is an important part of my life, but it’s not something I have to do all the time. Now I have two girls, and they can be quite testing, so it’s not about me all the time. It used be a lot more about cycling and records – now it’s a lot less music, but still the cycling.”

Brixton Cycles are open from Monday – Saturday every week in their new location on 296-298 Brixton Road, SW9 6AGGet down to check out their new place, have a cuppa, and for any maintenance or cycling equipment that you need!

This post was researched and written by B£ volunteer Fabien Piesakowski-O’Neill.

#YourPound: Meet the Trader – Seven and Three Eight Four

This post was researched and written by B£ volunteer Fabien Piesakowski-O’Neill.

Brixton Pound is a currency which encourages social connections, and so it is our pleasure to be introducing you to B£ traders as well as B£ users on our blog. This week, we’d like to introduce you to Jonny and Liam, owners of the cocktail bars Seven at Brixton and Three Eight Four. The bars offer a wide selection of cocktails, beers, wines, and tapas. Many B£ businesses have organised staff drinks at one of the bars (paid for in B£s of course!), and we heard these were always good times!

Jonny and Liam told us a bit about the story behind Seven and Three Eight Four:

“We walked past 7 Market Row (where Seven is now located) in mid-2011 and immediately wanted in! We started up with a tap, a sink, and a bar, and managed to blag, build and find a bit of furniture (4 years later our two large tables on the ground floor are still standing, both were chucked out on the street from an office above the Prince of Wales!) and grew things organically, got some money in the bank, and then got an ice machine, and other stuff. I still remember the mess we came into after the launch night, regretting not taking out a loan for a glass washing machine but that came after a while! Like many others, we found Brixton an inspirational place and thought we could cater for the cocktail and tapas needs of the community. There was and still definitely is a buzz on the streets throughout Brixton.”

Seven at Brixton

Seven At Brixton and Three Eight Four

Seven At Brixton and Three Eight Four

“Three Eight Four opened a few years later, in 2014, and gave us an opportunity to do another exciting thing in Brixton. We felt like we could offer something more than what we were offering at Seven: a more comfortable, relaxed setting with some more bespoke, delicate cocktails and dishes. We saw the space and were ready for a new challenge.”

“We built both bars because we wanted to be fantastic neighbourhood cocktail bars and kitchens. The difference is what kind of mood they’re in. At Three Eight Four there’s more time to peruse the menu and a much larger selection from our classic cocktail album, and at Seven you can book the whole of the upstairs for a Friday night party with your mates. The thing that makes both bars so satisfying for us is the number of people who choose to book with us for their special occasions. We’ve had 21st’s to 50th’s, wedding receptions, and our first ever engagement at Seven last week – they met there on a night out 3 years ago!”

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Tapas

Johnny and Liam are working with various local suppliers to create the food and drinks menus at Seven and Three Eight Four: “Our meats come from Jones the Butcher based up in Herne Hill, Brindisa have long been our supplier for Spanish goods, our seafood supplier is based in Bermondsey, breads are from Flour Power in New Cross Gate, fruit and veg from Mike at New Covent Garden Market (soon to be the American Embassy I think!), even our churros come from Spain via Shepperton!”

“Beer wise, we have a rotating guest slot for London beers at both Seven and Three Eight Four. We’ve welcomed beers from Coldharbour Hell Yeah from Clarkshaws on Coldharbour Lane, Orbit in Elephant & Castle, Canopy in Herne Hill, 40ft in Dalston, Five Points and Pressure Drop in Hackney, we’ll soon be welcoming Belleville from Clapham. We think its really important to give new breweries the opportunity to get a foot in the door and get their product out there so it’s a really exciting part of the business for us. We’re currently hoping to develop something very exciting with Brixton Brewery so watch this space!”

Sinner Mam The Bombay Kitchen Nightshade

“We offer 10% off for B£ users as per back in the day! Our latest cocktail menu at Seven also gave each guest B£1 with every Brixton Sour they bought. We thought it was a great way to promote the organisation and put the actual currency in people’s hands! Hopefully it’s done something for the local economy and improved the circulation of notes – I think we’ve cleared you out at one point actually!”

“Seven also holds an upstairs gallery which provides a platform for local artists to exhibit their wares and show off what they are doing. We’re in a very very creative part of London and it’s often important for artists to get that foot in door – we’d like to think we’ve helped people on their way with this. Different artists who have work with us have, as a result, been featured in fashion shoots for Topman, French Connection and ASOS, a few have had works commissions and one artist is now designing the labels for our wine supplier.”

The upstairs gallery at Seven

“At the moment we have works up from the Brothers of the Stripe, a group of artists based around London, we’ve had Adam Hemuss, a local artist whose works are quite mesmerising and very very detailed, fantastic artwork that almost comes to life after one or two mojitos. We had a few installation pieces when we opened from a couple of lads from Camberwell Arts College, it was very interesting and quite conceptual for the time, similarly some work from Ella Harrison, a previous staff member – her work is still in the toilet at the moment! Id-iom, a South London based graffiti duo, they did lots of work at the beginning, most of which can still be seen at the bottom of the stairs, and Ellie Jane did some fantastic stuff upstairs a few years back.”

“Our new Autumn/Winter menu has just launched at both bars. We love for our staff to create new drinks for our guests, we think its really important to change with the seasons and get the staff to get their cocktails on the menu.”

If you haven’t checked out Seven’s and Three Eight Four’s new menu yet – get on it! #friday

Seven is located in Brixton Market at 7 Market Row
HoursMon 9am to 6pm. Tues – Sat 9am-11.30pm. Sun 10am-11.30pm http://www.sevenatbrixton.com

Three Eight Four is located at 384 Coldharbour Lane
HoursMon – Fri 5pm till late. Sat & Sun 11am till late
http://www.threeeightfour.com

#Your Pound: Meet the Trader – The Turpentine

Brixton Pound is a currency which encourages social connections, and so it is our pleasure to be introducing you to B£ traders as well as B£ users on our blog. This week, we’re featuring the creative hub The Turpentine, home to our shiny B£ t-shirts and B£ pay-by-tap pioneers!

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“People really like them, especially the purple one!” says Amber, one of The Turpentine‘s co-founders. “They are also really good quality, the design is durable and doesn’t come out in the wash. We’ve had so many happy customers.”

The beginnings of The Turpentine go way back, and start with friends connecting friends. Co-founder Alice, who was living in Berlin at the time, introduced Amber and Jude at a friend’s dinner: “I knew Jude always dreamed of opening a coffee shop, and Amber wanted to set up something of her own, too, so I thought I’d connect them. Some time later I moved back, and they were already working on a project together!” They started will selling artwork at street markets, to then find a temporary home at Effra Social. Jude: “We would do markets there: have 20 tables with the stuff from our artists, workshops, music and dancing. It was such a great way to get to know people, find out what they wanted, what worked well – to get an idea of what our market was, and if what we were doing was falling on good ground.” Then one day Alice walked past the unit where to shop is today on Coldharbour Lane, and noticed it was available: “I called them up there and then, and couldn’t believe our luck when we got it! We never thought we could afford to open a permanent space in Brixton, we expected our offer to be rejected.. so when we actually got it we needed to do some frantic planning, fast!”

The name is a result of three nights’ worth of brainstorming. Jude: “We wanted something that combined a shop space with our workshops, something accessible, catchy, gender-neutral, art-based… and what had a domain name still up for grabs!”, she laughs. “Since then it’s been a constant learning process: the planning was easy, but then actually doing it! At one stage we just had to open, and realised we didn’t really think what was going to happen past that point. Amber had a lot of retail experience, but we didn’t yet have all the little systems you’ve got to have in place to make it all running smoothly.” Alice adds: “It was also a learning experience to work from home, with only one team meeting in the week – we don’t have any office space. But a year after opening, we’ve doubled the number of artists whose work we showcase, from 50 to over a hundred. We’ve seen people wearing our t-shirts at Brixton Academy gigs. Walking around Brixton there’s so much greeting and waving, because so many local people have been to our workshops.  And we just hired our first employee! It’s a big milestone. But the best feeling is probably the realisation that it’s actually happening: no more office jobs, this is our life now, and we’re loving every bit of it! We’re building something that’s ours, and since we’re best friends, we’re working with people we love and trust, and that’s amazing.”

“It’s been really great having all the positive feedback from customers. And that Guardian article has helped us a lot! We’re finally at the stage when we can start planning a bit more from the future, not just living from month from month and figuring out. And it never gets old: getting packages with new artwork delivered is like Christmas every day! It’s so exciting to see any new thing or design for the first time.”

The Turpentine's first own collection of lasercut wood jewellery

The Turpentine’s first own collection of lasercut wood jewellery

Amber is The Turpentine‘s curator, and works to maintain the shop’s distinctive feel: fun, accessible, bright, affordable – and finds new artists who fit into these themes: “We’re always looking for more artists, particularly locals. We’re into nice handmade things for not loads of money – something different to what you can find on the high street.” “But we’re on a high street!”, interjects Alice, “We’re literally bringing handmade to the high street, that’s our motto.”

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Three new sets of notebooks available at The Turpentine: feminists, anti-capitalists, and existentialists

Amazing artwork is not all that The Turpentine has to offer: they also specialise in workshops. Jude’s a jewellery designer and teacher, and also “a collector of weird craft techniques, which I like passing on. Lots of people are reluctant to try crafting because it can seem daunting, but most really enjoy it when they try – and it’s not that hard! We’re here to help break that barrier, enable people to use their creativity, give them some key principles they can then take away to do at home.”

Their most popular workshop is called Drink & Draw, and is currently booked out months in advance. Alice: “That was the one featured in the Guardian so it became even more popular. It also slotted well into the New Years Resolutions feel around the time the article was published. But we have lots more! A really awesome one is Wax Casting – you make a ring by carving it in wax, then casting in silver. You can make really unusual shapes, it’s very simple and you come out with an amazing one-off piece. You can also easily do it at home, the tools aren’t expensive which is not a common thing in jewellery design. It’s a really easy access to jewellery making, you should try it!” Watch this space, maybe we’ll expand our B£ collection from t-shirts to rings! 😉

The next big workshops The Turpentine is preparing will be a more in-depth, four week long painting course. “We’ve had lots of interest for life drawing, particularly from local people, so we thought we’d expand into painting too. It’s just great to see these ideas that started in our heads and see them work out! Also to meet customers, hear stories, have all these interactions you wouldn’t otherwise have. Some people do come from afar, even Essex, usually for Drink & Draw of the Guardian fame, but it’s the local connections that matter, and those are the people we’ll recognise and greet when walking around Brixton.”

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The Turpentine started accepting B£s pretty soon after opening: “The charming Tom came in one day and offered to sign us up, and we were glad to get involved. We were very flattered when he then approached us for a collaboration. We met with him and the note designer, Charlie, and the ideas for the t-shirts were born. Jude, our in-house designer did the designs, and the rest is history! People love those shirts, some have no idea about the currency so we tell them all about it, and more often then not they leave with a t-shirt in tow. People do B£ pay-by-text a lot, and now we also have the contactless terminal, so we’re excited to have pay-by-tap too!”

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The three best friends live in a triangle around the shop: in Brixton, Herne Hill, and just by the Jamm. Jude and Alice first moved South together as flatmates in 2003: to Elephant & Castle, and then to Stockwell. Amber worked in Photofusion at the time. Jude did jewellery design at St Martins, and then taught architecture and 3D design for five years. Making jewellery was her hobby, and now that it’s also her work she finds it hard not to do things that are Turpentine related… “I did just start singing lessons! And I love mooching about in Brixton. I live near Brockwell Park so always go there. And I love Las Americas, a Colombian caf with street food on top of Brixton Station Road. Their shredded beef is incredible.” Amber and Alice: “And why have you not taken us there yet? Sounds like the next Turpentine dinner!” Alice is an avid cyclist, and likes that she can take her bike into the market when she’s buying fruit and veg. “I mainly shop in the outdoor market but Nour Cash & Carry is great too. I like Casa Morita for Mexican food. I finally went to Mama Lan the other day after years of going past it – I just hate queues, and it’s always busy!” Amber had her wedding reception at the Trinity Arms: “It’s an amazing old pub, I love the place, and it never gets so busy you can’t have a conversation. I like the Ritzy too – I’m about to have a baby so it’s less pubs and more cinema. I like Brixton because there’s always something new, like graffiti. Did you see the new one on the back of the library, with the Jurassic Park computer guy?”

“We’re really lucky, it’s rare to have best friends working together, and it’s great that there’s three of us, cause it’s a lot of work to share! The shop is open every day, and we do workshops three evenings each week and they’re usually sold out.. But it never gets overwhelming, we support each other, it’s not like either of us has to do it all by herself, and that’s great. As Brixton residents and business owners we have mixed feelings about the fast pace of some changes. Of course it’s good for our business that Brixton is now a destination and more people come here, but some changes are happening too fast and there’s a danger they will erode the community. For us personally it means that if we have to move, we’ll have to move further away, which is sad – Brixton was so welcoming when we were setting up, people here are so supportive and curious, that sets it apart from the rest of London. Of course we’re part of that change, but we came to Brixton because it was vibrant and different – it’s sad we might lose that. We worry about the spirit of Brixton, but we hope it endures.”

#YourPound – Meet The Trader – Ms Cupcake

Ms Cupcake, UK’s first entirely vegan bakery, has been supporting B£ from the very start, often by providing amazing vegan cupcakes for our events – and tomorrow’s B£ Conference 2015 is no exception! Admission is free and will include some delicious Ms Cupcake treats – so come along to talk about money, society, and Brixton, and to munch on some vegan goodness.

Meanwhile, April is a big month for Ms Cupcake – their vegan cupcakes will be on offer in Whole Foods Market stores right across the UK! So you will now be able to get your hands on the decadent treats in more locations stretching as far as Richmond, Stoke Newington and Glasgow – but as Mellissa (Ms Cupcake herself) assures us, they will still all be hand made in Brixton!

“The Whole Foods collaboration is exciting for us, but really, every month is busy. In March we made a whole lot of cakes and drove them down to Vegfest in Brighton, and there was Mother’s Day, St Patrick’s, Easter… We try to keep things always changing and exciting, offer new flavours and new ideas. It’s not just all cupcakes: we’ve got ice-cream, sandwiches, squares, pastry, and have been diversifying despite the limited space. We also offer classes, and published a recipe book – which was a huge worldwide success (translated into French and German and popping up in vegan locations all over the world), a follow up to which is in preparation… My husband calls it the difficult second album. Mainly it’s hard to be working on it while doing all this other stuff at the same time!”

Book-cover

The Brixton bakery has become a destination point in itself, with vegans and gluten-free folks from all over London, the UK, and even the world seeking it out and coming in to try the famous cupcakes and other products.

“We’re always happy to take our customers on a vegan tour of Brixton: they can get vegan crepes from Senzala, pizza number 1 at Franco Manca (entirely vegan as it’s got no cheese), fresh juice from Oracle’s Organic Juice Bar… Being vegan isn’t a requirement for our staff, but as we get inundated with applications from vegans, they do end up being our own little vegan army. Our staff is very important for us, and they stay because we invest in them. If you pay minimum wage, you get minimum commitment. We give them 3 months training and support them lots – we appreciate it’s sometimes hard to stay positive when you’re working in a busy environment where everything has to be handmade with great care. Also there aren’t many vegan employers, and that’s often so important, particularly for people with allergies. We’ve got very strict rules to avoid cross-contamination: no animal products in the shop. It’s part of our responsibility to the community we serve. And we also do fun stuff! Every second Saturday of the month there’s a walk by Meet Up group London Vegans, The Brixton Vegan Walkabout (next one: 9th May) – there’s always new faces and we’re happy to show them around Brixton, promote the local area. We’re not getting anything extra for it – it’s simply our dedication for both Brixton and the vegan community. And we also organise events, book signings, act as a vegan hub.”

Uju

“We’ve always been huge supporters of B£ because it keeps money local. It’s the very first thing we train our staff to do – how to use B£s, take payments by cash, pay-by-text, and app. We don’t want to discourage people by making it difficult. And what we definitely get in return is continued custom – we get to know our customers, they are more inclined to come back, and we can also track what they like and offer them more personalised stuff.”

The bakery has just celebrated its fourth birthday on 1st April, and Mellissa has been a Brixton resident since 2002. “I’ve seen lots of changes as a resident – change is inevitable. We have to move forward, but the important thing is not losing the past. What I love about Brixton is its vibrancy, electricness, diversity. My father lived in Jamaica for 20 years, so the culture, music, and food have a personal dimension for me. It’s scary that we might be losing a lot of that. As a business owner I see it as positive that money is being poured into the area, but it’s crucial to find a sensible way to carry on. Whenever I can I try to get involved and influence the change – I’m part of the BID committee for instance. You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is.”

“The truth is you’re never going to get rich selling a handcrafted short-life product for £2.50, so this is not just a business for me – it’s my whole life, and we have a mission. Our customers can’t just go into Greggs or Patisserie Valerie – we cater for alcohol free, religious, allergic people – in that sense it’s a duty. And still, 5 years ago, before we even opened, we got a huge backlash – many people thought cupcakes were not compatible with Brixton.”

Why did a bake-at-home mum open a cupcake shop on Coldharbour Lane then? “This is my community, and if you want it to grow and develop better, you do it yourself and hope for ripple effect, rather than complain to council or politicians. Rosie’s, Franco Manca, Cornercopia – people who were here even longer than us started something, they set out to grow the food scene and not to get rich. Now lots of people are looking at Brixton thinking, oh, I can make some money there! It’s hard to see hotels being built, it’s hard to see the arrival of big names, of big money.”

“We are preparing to open another site just for manufacturing, because we’re running out of space in our little shop, and we’d like to make some extra bits: a menu for special orders, breads, wedding cakes… We’ll have a wider range of products already in the summer, though we’re still looking for the place where we could move some of the manufacturing. It’s a tricky time for a small business to expand in Brixton… The uncertainty, short term licenses and rolling contracts – so we have to look further afield, but we’re definitely hoping to stay in Lambeth.”

Ms. Cupcake Sandwiches

What Ms Cupcake is well know for is the sheer decadence of her cupcakes – they are famously 50:50 cake to icing ratio. “We were aiming for the opposite of what you might think when you think “vegan”… decadent, overflowing, sweet. Though that’s not to say we don’t do wholesome products – we cater to different audiences.” Some new items on the spring menu include a new salted caramel cupcake with sea salt and a liquid centre, an oreo red velvet brownie mashup (!!!), but also some less indulgent and non-chocolatey stuff: an oatmeal date square (known as “Matrimonial Cake” in Mellissa’s native Canada: “It’s called that because you’re supposed to have lots of dates before getting married!”, she laughs), a bakewell tart slice, and a blondie, which is the opposite of a brownie. And all the ingredients are as seasonal and local as possible!

Apart from some renovations done in the shop for the 4th birthday, a new arrival is the second fridge, soon to be home to the summer fridge menu, which will include a variety of cold beverages such as cold pressed juices and smoothies, more ice-cream, Ms Cupcake’s own cheesecake, vegan cheese, and breadless sandwiches. “The sky is the limit! We’ve got ideas as long as our arm… I’d love to have hot dogs and burgers and vegan mac and cheese – watch this space! For now we could now afford a second fridge and will work to fill it with all sorts of cold delights. Getting the first one wasn’t so easy – we were in lots of debt and had no cashflow, so £600-700 for a fridge was unthinkable. And then Fat Gay Vegan asked me – why not crowdfund it? This was a good few years ago, and I thought – nobody crowdfunds in the UK, it’ll never work! But I took the risk and though there was some outrage, we managed to get it!”

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Mellissa is from Toronto and moved to the UK in late 90s. She was working in the theatre industry and the move was intended as short-term, but she ended up staying, and going into teaching: “I wanted to be a mum and spend more time at home. I do curriculum consulting so I’m travelling loads, but it’s great: I advise on how to get more creativity into school curriculums. I’m also a governor at a local school. But my passion is baking – I do it all the time. It’s a great stress remedy. I never went to culinary school, so all I learned is from trial and error. And veganism? I was a vegetarian before, but especially when you live in a big city like London where vegan food is available, and you know what’s going on in the food industry, about the environmental impact and the cruelty, there’s really no excuse.”

“Cake is my main food group,” laughs Mellissa, “so when I found out there was no vegan bakery in London or the UK, I was gobsmacked. In Canada and the US it’s a lot more popular! And I just didn’t see stuff I wanted to eat – there would maybe be vegan and gluten free flapjacks, but not decadent, indulgent cakes. So I started a market stall, I would set up in Greenwich or on Brick Lane, and I was getting an overwhelming response. The queue was already there when I was starting to set up, and everything would sell out within an hour. So my trajectory from home to small business was very quick – and cost me many sleepless nights. One year to the day, and I opened the shop. I didn’t even have any industry experience, I’d never even done waitressing! So I swore to myself – if this works, I’ll teach people how to do it, because I wish someone had shown me the ropes when I was starting. So now we run classes on setting up your own food business. Our approach has always been very DIY – we’ve never used PR agencies or taken out ads, but with the passion and dedication it’s all seems to have worked out well. I make a fraction of the money I used to make, but I’ve never been happier in my life. At the end of the day I have so much personal satisfaction that I’ve actively contributed to the economy, created jobs, spread veganism… That far outweighs high income or holidays. And I still bake at home! The kitchen is my comfort zone, I create all the recipes there. My son and husband are always the first to test them. Being a parent and business owner can be difficult to juggle – but it’s my husband who takes a lot time off.”

#YourPound: Meet the Trader – Love Cats

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Love Cats loves your cats (and other small pets) when you can’t, arranging regular, trustworthy and affordable care for them. Victoria set up the business in 2011 after being made redundant. “I wanted to do something!” she says. 4 years and 4 Christmases on, the team of ‘cat servants’ has grown to 4 people who cover most of South London.

Rufus    Max 1

When you’re away for the weekend, on a business trip or on holiday, Victoria, Pamela, Elaine or Jane who still volunteer as cat socialisers at a well-known local cats home as well as being professional pet sitters, will regularly visit your cat in its own home. “We really believe that cats feel much better in their own environment. They need routine, and no matter how friendly catteries might be, there’s always an unfamiliar cage,” says Victoria. Before your holiday, the Love Cats team will take the time to meet you and your cat to understand any particular traits, and then drop in to check on your cat each day for at least 20-30 minutes – enough to feed the cat, refill its water supply, check for any signs of ill health, and if the cat requires it – also cuddles. “Some cats are OK on their own, but some really need cuddles, and we are all dedicated cat lovers so can definitely give them that! We always try to get to know each cat and its individual routine and needs.”

Melodie

Victoria and her dedicated team members have many years’ experience with hundreds of cats and small animals, have CRB checks and insurance, as well as access to 24/7 veterinary care. “It’s a lot of responsibility – taking care of someone’s cat, but also being a spare key holder! Sometimes people call us because they’ve locked themselves out – it’s an additional service we can provide,” smiles Victoria.

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They come highly recommended too. Mark, from Brixton, says:

“The Love Cats came to check on Genghis while I was away and he seemed very happy with the service.  They came round to meet him first to check they got on, and it was all very easy to arrange.  It’s a great service and also means someone is checking on your home each day while you are away.”

Maisy     Gilbert foot rub

Her and most of her cat staff have other jobs, Love Cats being, as the name indicates, a labour of love. Elaine is an ex-dancer and pilates teacher, Jane an accountant in the City who decided to take it more easy, and Pamela a retired social worker.

PamelaPamela is Love Cats’ Brixton connection. She’s lived in the area for 8 years, and as a gardener and cat sitter had been involved in LETS – Local Economy Trading Scheme, a system of exchange which existed before the Brixton Pound. During Easter 2012 she joined Victoria at Love Cats and though she still does a bit of gardening, taking care of cats actually became her main job. She sometimes sees as many as 10 cats a day! With a minimum of 20 minutes per visit, that’s quite a lot – but Pamela saves a lot of time by cycling everywhere (and only occasionally getting the train uphill to get to Gypsy Hill).

Pamela really likes Brockwell Park, and lives so close she can see it from her neighbour’s window. She likes the fact she can buy groceries and essentials with B£s – she shops at Nour Cash & Carry and Brixton Whole Foods, and has the occasional cupcake from Ms Cupcake as the location is in between two cat sitting appointments. She says: “It’s the perfect job for me – I can do knitting, I can read a book, even have a snooze if I want to – the cats are happy with that! All I need to do is make sure they’re well, feed them, change the litter, and play with them. I absolutely adore old cats, there is just something great about them. My own, Pudding, is 18 now. Love Cats take care of Pudding when I’m away. We look after other small animals, too – I once had a bearded dragon in my care! – but we’re really cat specialists. Cats are a bit hard to read, you have to observe them very carefully. Sometimes you can tell something’s up just by the way they move their tails – you have to understand their behaviour.” In her whole cat sitting career with Love Cats, Pamela has never had to actually take a cat to the vet, only sometimes call to get some advice – which must mean the cats are in very safe and competent hands.

Merlin    Sonny

Many requests come around Christmas time, and Love Cats even work on Christmas Day! “We try to never turn anyone down,” assures Victoria, though she admits last minute requests can be more difficult to accommodate. So if you’re planning to leave for the holiday season and have a cat or small pet, get in touch with Love Cats now to make sure they have a wonderful Christmas. Registration is free, and if you’re paying in B£, you’ll get 10% off your first booking!

Bramble tickle

Photo of Pamela at Rosie’s Deli Cafe by Marta Owczarek

All other photos by Love Cats, starring: Max, Rufus, Max again, Melodie, Chi Chi (Victoria’s cat), Maisy, Gilbert, Merlin, Sonny, and Bramble

#YourPound: Meet the Trader – Brixton Brewery

Brixton Brewery

Brixton Brewery launched in August last year, after years of careful planning. It occupies two railway arches on Brixton Station Road – one for storage, the other where all the brewing, bottling, labelling takes place and which opens on Saturdays to serve the Brixton public.

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BB co-founder Jez invites us over, but warns to dress warmly because the units are rather cold on weekdays. We end up sitting in his car, where he tells the Brixton Brewery story:

“I moved to Brixton in 2006 when I bought a flat on Saltoun Road, where the Black Cultural Archives are on the corner. Mike, the co-founder, also bought a flat across the road around the same time. It took a couple of years before we met, because in London people don’t talk to each other, you don’t generally know your neighbours. Then we both had kids at the same time, and my wife and Mike’s girlfriend got talking. That’s how we became friends. Then one day we were having a drink in Hive Bar, now The Craft Beer Co., and got the idea to start our own brewery. We had no idea about brewing! But we knew Brixton and thought it deserved its own.

We started home brewing in Mike’s kitchen. We bought the books and brewed the early versions of our beers. But we had young families to support, so couldn’t just give up our jobs. So we sent Mike’s girlfriend on a 3 day course to Sunderland to learn how to brew, and naively thought she could do all the brewing for us. Only afterwards did we realise we needed someone who had more time and more than a few days’ experience, and so we found Dominic, who’s now our Head Brewer. He was a fresh graduate from a brewing masters course, had some experience working in breweries, and above all, agreed to work for one which didn’t even exist yet.

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It was important for us to be in the heart of Brixton, and we wanted our customers to be predominantly local businesses, so we were very happy we found the railway arch. We went round talking to traders and got started. But we were essentially opening a factory, so it was a bit daunting. The Brixton Pound actually helped us a lot – around that time you ran a workshop on how to start a food business, with Ms Cupcake, Ossie, Liam from 7 @ Brixton, and Anne from Cornercopia. It was great to meet people who had had an idea and made it successful, and learn how to deal with permissions and red tape.

We had two launch parties in October last year – one actually at Craft Beer Co., where it all started in 2011. I made a little speech. Then we held a party at the arch, and at 5pm we ran out of draught beer! We knew then that we were doing something right.

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We started off with three beers: Reliance Pale Ale, Effra Ale, Electric IPA, and now have two more Brixton-inspired ones: Windrush Stout and Atlantic APA. We also make a Mexican-inspired beer for DF / Mexico, a restaurant in East London, whose owners now opened Brixton Wahaca, and it is also served there. It’s called Lupulo – it’s the Spanish word for hops.

Visiting Brixton Brewery

A video posted by Brixton Pound (@brixtonpound) on

But it was Brixtonites who supported us from day one, businesses and customers alike. They had faith in us, and they are still supporting us. Our first ever delivery was to Market Row Wines: Dave is a smart guy and ordered 15 crates straight away, knowing they would sell quickly, we just prayed they would!

We’re located very centrally in Brixton and that’s great – we do most of our deliveries with a simple trolley. Beer tastes so much better when it’s fresh – just like other things, bread, fruit and vegetables.. And the traders can tell the customers they are drinking a beer that’s been brewed only a couple hundred meters away – it’s a rarity.

The business still runs like a proper family business and everybody lends a hand – we have to do more with less. My wife is doing orders and deliveries, Mike’s partner social media and the website.

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On Friday we brewed for the 100th time – it’s a big milestone for any brewery! And it’s a special edition one – a double IPA. It will be stronger and hoppier and more bitter – we’re calling it MegaWatt IIPA, and will be launching it at our Xmas party on 13th December with a special bottle and label – we want people to take the bottle home and keep as a souvenir. It is inspired by the spiritual candles you see in the market – our designer and I just bought three this morning to serve as inspiration. All our labels are inspired by Brixton: local landmarks and African fabric prints. I feel inspired and motivated by Brixton. It has always been at the forefront of the local independent business movement. For us, everything just came together. I’m not particularly religious, but it was like all the signs were pointing at this, calling us towards it, “come on guys, you’ve got to do it!” And we made the right judgement. The reaction we’ve had has been great, we quickly got recognised in Brixton but also in London. We’re starting to supply outside of Brixton, mainly to other areas of South London, but we’re not producing a huge amount, and I like the idea of a regional, local brewery. It’s a great feeling going around the market and seeing people drinking our beers – every time I scratch my head and think, they must actually like it!”

Reason to use the Brixton Pound #3

Get to know your local independents

#3 Get to know your local independents

You can’t bank a Brixton Pound, you can’t spend it at Sainsbury’s, and you can’t spend it in Islington. There’s only one thing you can do: spend it in Brixton’s independent businesses. Accepted by over 250 businesses, there’s not much that you can’t buy in Brixton Pounds. Shopping locally doesn’t have to be an expensive luxury either – many of the grocers and shops that accept the Brixton Pound offer cheaper products and services than chains, as well as a more human and personable shopping experience.

 To get to know our traders better, follow our monthly Meet The Trader blog posts! In August we featured Stuart Taylor, who runs a bicycle repair service Live the Wheel, and in June had a chat with Brixton stalwarts Nour Cash & Carry, a grocery shop which has been around for 20 years.

Want more reasons? 11 more are right here.

#YourPound: Meet the Trader: Live the Wheel

This blog post is by Hayley James, who is researching the Brixton Pound as part of her MA in Social Anthropology

Stuart Taylor is the man behind Live the Wheel, a bicycle repair service in Brixton, and one of our B£ traders. He bases his business from his home near Brixton Hill, having started the business while he was a stay at home dad. Stuart has an excellent knowledge of bike maintenance and repair having worked as a cycle courier for many years.

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Stuart’s customers are mainly local Brixton people, who like the flexibility of getting their bikes repaired so close to home. Stuart offers a really convenient, tailored service, where you can drop your bike off before work and pick it up after by arrangement. He’s a really helpful and friendly guy so I would recommend giving him a call if there’s anything you need in the realm of bicycle repair, especially because he offers a 10% discount for B£ customers. photo 3 (1)

Stuart has accepted Brixton pounds for a year or so, as he thinks it is good to support local businesses. He often uses the B£ he earns for eating out and food shopping – in fact we recently bumped into Stuart enjoying the Big Lunch using his B£ to help raise money for the Brixton Soup Kitchen! Stuart is also one of the organisers of The Brixton Book Jamm which takes place at the Hootenanny, which is great for all book lovers. You can find out more at http://www.brixtonbookjam.com/.

To contact Live the Wheel bicycle repair service, call Stuart on 07960963552.

#YourPound – Meet the Trader: Nour Cash & Carry

This blog post is by Hayley James, who is researching the Brixton Pound as part of her MA in Social Anthropology

Nour Cash & Carry has been a feature of the local community in Brixton for 20 years. For the last 12 years, they’ve been based in Market Row, selling all sorts of provisions, some from all over the world. Don’t be fooled by the deceptively small entrances on Market Row and Electric Avenue, it’s really big inside with a huge variety. The rows of spices, fresh fruit and vegetables look and smell amazing.

photo 3Nour’s customers are mainly local people, be it local foodies who want good-quality ingredients, or traders running the restaurants in the area, many of whom rely on Nour for a whole host of ingredients and supplies. One of the traders we recently spoke to described Nour as the centre of Brixton’s Universe, because you see everyone in there from time to time!

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We were really pleased in January when Nour Supermarket started accepting the B£ through pay-by-text. They wanted to support their loyal local customers in developing the currency for the community. Since then, they’ve seen a slow but steady custom from B£ users using pay-by-text, including a few new customers who want to use B£.

 

Saja told us that so far the currency is working well for Nour, the pay-by-text service is good and their customers like that they now accept it. And it’s been especially good in supporting reciprocal trade – Saja can often be found using her B£ for much-needed coffee nearby in Rosie’s or Seven!

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So head to Nour for all your food needs, what a great way to spend #yourpound!