Brodies Coffee Co on post-pandemic challenges

Brodies Coffee Co stands in Gorsedd Gardens
Brodies coffee cabin in Gorsedd Gardens, Cardiff, has seen its challenges during the pandemic. Credit: Natalie Graham.
Interview with Ian Brodie, owner of Brodie's Coffee Co, discussing the effects of COVID-19 on Cardiff's independents, and the role of the Welsh Government in supporting these businesses.

By Natalie Graham | @Caerdydd Editor

The company Brodies Coffee Co has humble beginnings. Brodie’s repurposed VW Camper was a regular sight around the Welsh festival and events circuit since 2013.

In 2016, owner Ian Brodie swapped the VW for the former caretakers’ shelter in Gorsedd Gardens, and since then the coffee cabin has done nothing but flourish.

The coffee’s good but the ethos is better. On the menu? An oat milk latte with a splash of community spirit, and a sprinkling of social justice. Brodie himself is a champion of Cardiff based independent business, describing indies not as “faceless shareholder investments”, but as our “neighbours, schoolmates, the people you bump into when walking the dog”.

In 2019 Brodies Coffee Co launched the suspended coffee initiative, providing hot drinks for the homeless. Customers can donate full loyalty cards or buy extra coffee to be given to the homeless. Last year, 1200 suspended coffees were donated.

2019 also saw a little ‘You’ve Got This’ stamp appear on their takeaway cups.

Customers from all walks of life gravitate to Brodies Coffee Co for their caffeine fix, some having good days, others just trying to get through it. In light of this, Brodie provided quite literally a stamp of hope, a small but significant act of kindness towards the community.

Of course, you get the obligatory talk of Welsh weather, but there’s a willingness to discuss deeper issues of community, politics and most importantly people in the short time it takes to curate a cappuccino.

Over lockdown, Brodies Coffee Co pulled down the metal shutters for the long haul, and since dusting off the coffee machine in June I thought it would be prime opportunity to gather Brodie’s revelations, struggles, and thoughts to the future in this strange post lockdown limbo. Brodies Coffee Co opened up to Gair Rhydd about the post-pandemic challenges they’re likely to face.

In a recent Instagram post, Brodie talked of how adaptable Cardiff and its independents have had to be during this pandemic. Businesses have had to be adaptable, and changes have been put in place for life once lockdown measures have eased.

What kind of changes have you had to make, and what kind of changes are still to come?

“The main adaptations for us were the deliveries before we felt comfortable to open, we’d never offered anything like that before and it was a real eye-opener on how complex the infrastructure would need to be if you wanted to do deliveries full time.

“Beyond that, we’ve obviously adapted our opening hours to meet demand, as there are very few office workers, there is minimal morning trade so we are focusing on lunchtime and afternoons primarily. Other changes which are standard across the board are the screen to limit any contact between ourselves and customers and distanced furniture which loses us some covers but we’d rather have what we have than people not comfortable sitting down anyway.

“The other thing which we probably wouldn’t have introduced without COVID-19 was a merch range, we wanted to give people ways to support us outside of the normal methods and the “cabin fever” range seemed so apt, benefits are we’ve been able to support a local illustrator and a local print house with these as well and this is something we will continue.”

Do you feel supported by the Welsh Government during this time? 

 “At a government level, I think there are few complaints from the business sector besides a very slow rollout of the communications which gives us limited time to prepare.

“At a localised level there have been several decisions taken that do not support small businesses at all and this is very frustrating but ultimately unsurprising. Closing Castle Street is a good example, and demanding rent from businesses like ourselves for the time we were closed is another.

“We did get financial support in the form of a grant from the Welsh Government at a time that the Westminster schemes did not include us and we are very grateful for them moving to support the businesses that slipped between the cracks.”

 What do you think the impact (both long and short term) of COVID-19 will be on Independent business in Cardiff?

 “Honestly, some won’t make it, those that have been unable to trade or adapt will fold and this is really sad to see at a time when the chains have already got so much dominance in the city.

“Conversely, though, the positive is that the businesses that have pushed through are getting more coverage and seeing wider support so hopefully this can continue long after lockdown measures ease.

“It’s our responsibility to win the hearts and minds of people whilst we have the spotlight so that when the chains push back in a big way people will know how much better it is to keep their money localised and reinvested in their own communities.

“I talk with a few other businesses regularly, we just cheer each other on and shout each other out where appropriate. Everyone has their own plan on how to get through but knowing that other guys are out there in the same position and wishing you well means a lot.”

 What has the atmosphere been amongst your customers since reopening? 

“Grateful! People see us as an olive branch of normality and the simple pleasure of having good coffee made for you is something people have really missed.

“We’ve had a lot of people supporting us far more than they would’ve because they know what it could mean if we don’t get the trade for significant lengths of time. This has got even better since the seating was allowed as people can now socialise and this brings such positive energy to the park.

 “We could’ve [remained open during the lockdown period], we were told by someone in a position of authority that we could’ve, due to the wording of the directives though we felt that we couldn’t justify remaining open.

“People were not to leave the house for anything non-essential, we are not essential, by opening we would’ve been encouraging people to breach the rules and that was not something we would consider.”

For Brodie’s in particular, where do you see the next year taking you? 

“We have a stronger brand now, a larger presence on social media. We’re adding our merch lines to continue this brand awareness and growth and continue to be prolific on Instagram.

“This year for us now is about fortifying our position and security in the park beyond the next winter When we traditionally lose a lot of sales so that we can kick on and make up for lost time next year.

“Expansion is never out of the question but we would only consider for the right location.

“Community spirit is definitely on the rise; where we are it isn’t necessarily the local community as this is mostly students and a lot are not around but Cardiff as a community in itself has grown and become more familiar. We’ve found the social media community has also been more open and friendly since we’ve all been stripped back to a few words and pictures.

“I think coffee shops will return to similar pre-COVID levels are some point, I fear more for bars and restaurants as a lot of conversations have been around how little people have felt they’ve missed pubs, etc, and how much better it is to spend that time at home together.

“Hopefully we can reach a similar pre COVID level with a little more decency, respect for others, and support for small businesses.”

 What have you learned from Lockdown- both as a business and personally? 

“As a business, I’ve learned to be more authentic, just be us; do what we enjoy and focus solely on that – other shops can do their thing, we can only be authentic if we only do what we enjoy not what the industry is. Slow down and have fun wherever possible.

“Personally I’ve gained a lot more confidence in myself to keep my head up, I just don’t panic and now that I have gone through a pandemic without panicking I can confirm, it’s just not a thing I do and I’m glad of that.”

“[We’re] close to [being back to] normal levels of customers, just in a shorter window of time. We’re deemed as a safe option so more people seek us out now.

“We’ve lost all of the event trade and graduation trade we typically benefit from during summer, though, so overall obviously we are down on last year.”

 How do you take your coffee? Costa or Starbucks?

 “Black, filtered, single-origin.”

“Starbucks for the toilets, Costa for the napkins.”

Although Brodies Coffee Co has seen its fair share of struggle during this pandemic, Ian and his business continue to look at the positives. Cardiff is a vibrant city, with a strong community eager to help one another.

Brodies Coffee Co is open seven days a week ‘with socially distanced brews’ available from 10:00-16:00.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *