As Coffeeangel celebrates its twentieth anniversary, its director and co-owner, Caroline Sleiman Purdy, speaks to Robert McHugh about what inspires her.
The past twelve months have been very eventful for Coffeeangel. In April, the specialised coffee shop opened its first location outside of Dublin, in Monaghan town.
This was followed by Coffeeangel opening another shop on Hatch St Upper in the newly refurbished Styne House. Where the Coffeeangel team got the chance to work with the team at IPUT Real Estate Dublin, having previously worked with them on their IFSC location in the Exchange Building on Georges Dock.
Coffeeangel will be celebrating its twentieth anniversary in March. The company was originally founded by Karl Purdy in 2004 and now employs 60 people. Its sister B2B company, WORKFLOW, also continues to grow other sides of the business such as office catering and expects to announce further exciting developments this year.
Hospitality Ireland caught up with Caroline Sleiman Purdy, director and co-owner of Coffeeangel, to look back on an exciting year and what the future may bring.
The past year has been very busy for Coffeeangel and in March the company celebrates its twentieth anniversary. What do you think have been the highlights?
It sometimes feels like 20 years in business and then overnight success! I officially joined Coffeeangel five years ago but I was always in the background working with Karl and helping along the way. I was marketing director for Moët Hennessy LVMH Ireland, working for Edward Dillon. I left there six years ago to join Coffeeangel.
Our strategy has been growth. Last year, we added three new shops to the portfolio, one in Monaghan and two in Dublin, on Harcourt Street and Merrion Row.
We also have a B2B company called WORKFLOW that sells specialised coffee equipment to the trade as well, and that has been growing over the last two years.
Coffeeangel launched a loyalty program last year and we are about to launch an online platform for our office catering business which is just about to go live.
There are lots of different facets to our business along with growing the coffee shops.
What is unique about coffee angel?
Most people would say that what Karl did with Coffeeangel was bring the first specialty coffee shop to Ireland. Before he came to Dublin, he had a coffee shop in Belfast called the Ground Floor. That was really the first kind of specialty coffee shop that was opened in Ireland. There's an article in the Irish Times that actually called Karl the “father of the Irish speciality coffee scene!”
So I would say that is a unique point for Coffee Angel, but what makes us different is two things. The first is the quality of the coffee. We are basically a specialty coffee shop that sells food on the side, whereas, the business model for a lot of coffee shops is food with coffee. For us, it is coffee with food.
Secondly, without a shadow of a doubt, it's the customer service. I mean getting a good cup of coffee from a nice barista is so important. If you have a rude or arrogant barista, you might go in once or twice, but you won't go in a third time. When you look back at all our reviews and what customers say, we get so many lovely messages from them. It is always the fact that the customer service is so good and they love our team.
You build up a relationship with customers over the years because you see them daily. Sometimes three times a day. So they become your friends.
What does it feel like to reach this stage of the company's development?
Both Karl and I are very proud of what we have done and what we were able to achieve. A lot of work has gone into getting us to where we are at. We don't take that for granted at all.
There's lots of work done but there's lots more to do. We're not resting on our laurels, let's put it that way.
Would you just tell me a little bit about your own background, where you grew up and where you studied?
I am half Irish and half Lebanese. I grew up in Lebanon and then moved to Ireland to start university but I then went to France to do international marketing and languages.
So I was in France for a couple of years and then I got my first job.
What was your first major role?
My first major role was actually for a linen company based in in Northern Ireland. They sent me to the US, which was a very big market for their bespoke linens. All the big Michelin-star restaurants and four or five-star hotels would order their linen napkins and little tablecloths, and bed linens, with their bespoke signature logos on them.
My job was to fly around the States and Hawaii and meet those customers. I had to find out what they liked or didn't like about the product. If they were thinking of moving to a cheaper alternative, I would meet with distributors and agents and come back with a proposal to the company. I could not understand for the life of me why people give out about work (laughs). People work is great.
That was my first role and a very enjoyable one. But, you know, in hindsight, it was a fantastic opportunity. It taught me a lot, very early on in my career, about discipline and working alone, sending back reports on a very regular basis. I had to be very methodical. It was a very, very important role for me.
And what do you enjoy most about your job presently?
For many years, I was working for somebody else. I was in the corporate world. The successes that happened were somebody else's successes to a certain extent. You always had a boss or somebody else above you, who would rightly so, take ownership of whatever was a success.
What I love about my current job is that the successes are ours, and ours alone. The hard work that we put in is ours, and if we make a mistake, it's ours, as well, to own and learn from. I think that is very important.
I also enjoy working with teams, motivating them, seeing them flourish, seeing them move on throughout the company.
What do you think are the main challenges in the industry at the moment?
Oh God, there's so many. This year is going to be very tough between the VAT rise, the minimum wage, the increasing cost of everything. Coffee is hugely expensive and that is not going to go away.
There are just so many things hitting us from all angles and we still are battling shortages of staff. So, yes, it's tough. Hospitality is not for the faint hearted, put it that way, in Ireland in particular.
What is your business motto?
What we say to our staff, and what we say to everybody, is that Coffeeangel needs to be the type of place where you would feel comfortable bringing your grandmother. Your grandparents are people that you love, you want them to feel comfortable, you want them to feel important and well-taken care of. And for us, our shops are that place where you bring that important person so that they feel comfortable.
It's service above all, quality and consistency. Again, you wouldn't take your grandparent to somewhere where you know you might get bad service or bad anything.
What will be the next chapter for Coffeeangel in 2024?
Growth. Our ambition is to grow, but grow sustainably. We've always done that, you know, we've waited for the right time.
We do not have investors, we do this, organically and alone, if you want. Alone, as in myself and Karl.
So we are not rushing out to do anything that would put what we have already achieved in jeopardy, that's for sure. But ultimately, the aim is to grow and do so in a sustainable way.
What is your favourite meal?
My favourite meal would be fish. I love fish and seafood.
A beautiful freshly cooked lobster from the West of Ireland served with a salad and a beautiful glass of Pouilly-Fuissé or something like that.
Outside Dublin, it would be Dede at the Customs House in Baltimore.
In Dublin, it would be Patrick Guilbauld's for special occasions.
All Irish pubs are fantastic.
Favourite holiday destination?
It's without a doubt, a little island called Pantelleria, near Italy.