Exclusively for Premium Plus and digital website members, Hospitality Ireland presents a piece originally featured in the April 2018 issue of our print publication in which we talk to Caroline Sleiman-Purdy of Coffeeangel.
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Tell us about your business, in a nutshell?
Coffeeangel is a group of locally-owned independent speciality coffee shops based in Dublin city centre, and some would say one of the original founders of today's Irish coffee culture. Our passion and focus is on providing excellent customer service and delivering delicious coffee every time.
Whilst being quietly insistent on excellent coffee, Coffeeangel manages to serve you efficiently whilst enabling that most precious of sensations: some quality me-time.
Where did the idea come from? How did you start off?
In the late 1990s, I was working in Belfast as the marketing manager for a portfolio of beers for InBev.
Karl, my now husband - originally from Belfast, but brought up in Canada - decided in 1994 to return to Belfast. We met and realised that there were limited options outside of the pub of where to meet and go on dates. Over the course of several months, we realised that what was missing was the buzzing café scene that we had come across in various countries around the world.
Young, enthusiastic and having spotted a gap in the marketplace - and the perfect location - Karl put together a business plan and arranged a meeting with his bank manager. The bank manager said she had "absolutely no faith in this business concept - a shop that only sells coffee? In Belfast?", but she had total faith in Karl and would authorise the loan request. Fortunately, her faith was well-founded!
Less than 24 months after opening, we received an unsolicited offer for this coffee shop, for many times more than the initial investment. We accepted this offer and, in 2000, moved to Dublin, where we opened a critically-acclaimed but financially disastrous restaurant and proceeded to lose everything. It was incredibly painful, but taught us an extremely valuable lesson - we had deviated from what we knew best, from what our objectives were - that was to create a vibrant and thriving coffee culture in Ireland.
The Coffeeangel of today was founded from the ashes of that failed restaurant, the lessons learned, and a need to focus on a unique selling point - simply delicious coffee and fantastic service. Broke following the demise of the restaurant, we borrowed a small amount of money from a relative and purchased a converted three-wheeled Piaggio coffee cart from Germany, and on St. Patrick’s Day 2004, at the end of Howth's East Pier, Coffeeangel's first coffee was served. By the end of the day, we had brewed 150 cups of delicious coffee and were over the moon!
Today, that number stands at well over 1.5 million cups served and continues to climb. The business has grown from a three-wheeled cart manned by one person to four shops - soon to be five - two trailers, an online and wholesale business, and a team of over 40 people, but our main goals, values and passion remain the same as those early days.
Is this a big change from your previous role?
Yes and no. The biggest change was moving from being part of a huge international company and the support systems that brings to being self-employed and all the pressure that brings, but, equally, all the opportunities.
What was your best career/business decision?
Knowing when the time was right to move on to new challenges.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
Thankfully, that is yet to come!
What are three attributes you wish you had?
Patience, patience, patience.
What is your favourite pub/restaurant/hotel?
Supporting small and local.
What is your favourite holiday destination?
Pantelleria, a little island off the coast of Sicily.
If you could do any other job apart from this one, what would it be, and why?
My passion has always been the arts and fashion. In my last job, I was lucky enough to be able to create the Hennessy Portrait Prize with the NGI, and the Hennessy Art Fund for the IMMA collection. Seeing those two projects thrive and grow is a delight.
I am very lucky that my current role allows me to meet people from all walks of life. In Europe, coffee shops and cafés have historically been the point at which men and women of all backgrounds came together to debate and create, and this continues to happen in our shops.
Do you have any pet hates?
People who are constantly late and those who lie.
What is your business motto?
Nothing is impossible.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Treat others the way you want to be treated.
With which fictional character do you most identify?
There are so many incredible real-life characters that I prefer to identify with them!
Name one thing that you always have in your refrigerator.
Two things: wine and olives.
What is your recipe for a successful coffee shop?
The key to the success of Coffeeangel, I believe, is having identified early on what our key values and unique selling point are - 1: we are a speciality coffee shop, and not a bistro or café; 2: we aim to serve the best cup of coffee, with the best customer service.
What do Irish coffee shops do best?
Small, independent coffee shops offer fantastic coffee and always a great atmosphere.
What would your death-row meal be?
It would have to be a Lebanese mezze, served with Lebanese wine.
What is the most enjoyable part of your career?
Meeting the most interesting people.
What has been your biggest disappointment to date?
Not taking more time off work when my daughter was a baby, to spend with her.
Complete this sentence: "Nothing is more important than...".
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