I first found Fraser, the owner of EH9 ESPRESSO, on Instagram, where he shared his experience with speciality coffee. I had no idea that a few months later he would be opening a speciality coffee shop in Dundee. I reached out and asked Fraser a few questions about what it's like to start a speciality coffee shop from scratch. This interview is an excellent glimpse into what it's like to start a speciality coffee shop. I hope you enjoy it!
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and why you decided to start a speciality coffee shop?
I’m Fraser, I’m 25 years old and one half of a set of twins from Newport-on-Tay, a small village just across the bridge from Dundee.
My journey, like many of my industry peers, started with a part time job. I had been working in Jack Wills during my first year at university in Edinburgh, which felt like a perpetual cycle of being forced to tidy someone else’s bedroom and then watching a stranger mess it up again. It wasn’t for me. Discontent with my current job, I spoke to my mum who suggested that I look for a job in a local coffee shop. She explained that I’d meet a load of cool people, be able to travel with the skills and that it would work well around my studies. I’m still hunting for her crystal ball.
I spent the next tree years working in a neighbourhood café called Red Box in Marchmont, before moving on to a few others around the capital city. Red Box were so amazingly supportive of me and provided me with the opportunities and resources to explore the world of coffee. I would often head to the shop around 5am with a few pints of milk and a bag of speciality beans to practice/explore before we opened. This platform nurtured what became a real passion for coffee and coffee culture itself.
I feel really proud to call myself a small business owner. I have always valued the ability to be creative, adaptive and enjoy a bit of pressure as well. I thought I was motivated by money, but it turns out that the real value in an entrepreneurial role comes from seeing tangible results from your effort. I have had a go at starting other businesses; it all started with awful haircuts in the school canteen, swerved toward the retail of vintage rugby balls before heading in the direction of coffee. The coffee industry is by far the most fulfilling.
What’s the story behind the name EH9 ESPRESSO?
This is a question that I get asked frequently: why an Edinburgh postcode, even though you’re in Dundee?
The EH9 ESPRESSO concept takes heavy influence from my experiences of the independent coffee scene in Edinburgh. There are countless independents, all rocking their own space in Scotland’s capital city and I have enjoyed this both as a barista and a coffee enthusiast.
The bustling coffee scene in Edinburgh has created a rising tide effect, lifting customer engagement, pushing standards and supporting the coffee industry, which is now world renowned for its quality. I wanted to create a little of bit of that here, in Dundee, as the city continues to increase in vibrancy. Think of EH9 as the coffee equivalent of a ‘little Italy’ restaurant.
When you decided to start your shop, what happened next? What were the main tasks ahead of you?
I have been saying that I was going to open a coffee shop for a few years and was just waiting for the right moment both professionally and personally. I decided around Christmas time this year that now was my time to set the wheels in motion. Some of that was down to the additional time that I had to reflect on what I wanted from life during lockdown, but it was mostly because I saw an opportunity in Dundee for a shop like EH9.
I kept hearing folk say, "Dundee needs another speciality shop" (full disclosure, there are already some awesome spots for coffee in the city) – but choice is always a good thing to have when it comes to great coffee spots. I truly believe that Dundee has an emerging coffee culture, like we have seen in other cities across the country in recent years, and I want to be part of that.
The first thing I did was research, research, research. I spoke to a number of awesome business owners / baristas from across the country for advice. I spent a number of weeks consolidating my thoughts and got to work on my business plan. I downloaded a template from the British Business Bank (which was super helpful) and spent probably 2 months putting together all of the information that I had gathered. This was fairly intensive, but really helped me to shape the identity of EH9 ESPRESSO – it has been so fulfilling to see this come to life over the last few months.
Once I had a solid business plan put together, I applied for funding and started speaking to suppliers, looking for the right location. Once I had these aspects nailed, the rest took care of itself.
How many people did you have helping you while you got started?
I’m the sole owner of EH9, but that does not mean I did this alone. I have had help from so many individuals along the way. The list is long, and it has been astonishing how forthcoming people are when asked for advice or help. At this point I should recognise the help that I have had from my family and friends who have helped to paint the shop, clean the bathroom. and varnish tables etc. Without them I wouldn’t have opened on time.
I’m also lucky to have received thorough mentoring from an experienced hospitality professional through OTOLO, an amazing online mentoring platform for individuals like myself. She has gone above and beyond for me. if you’re interested in OTOLO, check out their website.
Can you tell me how you found a location for your cafe?
I searched for a while for the right spot for EH9, but fate took control of the eventual location for the shop. I had actually just found out that I had missed out on a retail space around the corner, when I drove past a team of workmen putting up the ‘To Let’ sign at 248/250 Perth Rd. I jumped on the phone and arranged to view the space that evening. I was looking for a space which was small enough for the team to take their time over the coffee that we serve, whilst also being nbig enough to make the whole thing financially viable. This spot was perfect.
It was really key for me to be in a spot with other independent businesses and Perth Rd is bursting with them. I wanted the community that comes with that.
How did you prepare for opening day? How did you feel when you were getting everything set up before opening?
I was a nervous wreck the few days before opening. No matter how prepared you think you are, there’s always going to be a whole load of rushing around buying things and adding finishing touches. Thankfully I had family and friends who I could lean on for help. One of my best mates rocked up at 8am and didn’t leave until about 1am the day before opening. I owe him a few coffees.
The amazing thing was how quickly the nerves subsided once the coffee was flowing and customers were coming through the door. This all feels very natural.
What was the most challenging part about opening a cafe?
There have been a few headaches along the way, but they mostly centre around staying on budget and on time. The trick is to do your research, ask for advice, build relationships with suppliers and be strict with yourself. You can spend crazy cash on all the coffee kit in the world, a fancy shop fit and heavy marketing, but it takes restraint to consider where the true value from your purchases comes from.
What advice do you have to other aspiring cafe owners to help them make progress on their goal to start a cafe?
Use the excuse to visit loads of coffee shops in advance!
Be critical but kind when you’re visiting and really think about what works and what doesn’t in your opinion. Speak to baristas and coffee shop owners as they work and lap up the info. Over the years I have tried so many amazing places both in the UK and beyond. It really helped to develop my sense of what EH9 should be like. Once the work starts, just tick things off one by one and remember that nothing is perfect the first time around!
Now that you have opened, what's it like to run your own cafe?
Fulfilling, rewarding, hectic, exciting and exhausting. EH9 is just approaching the end of its first month of trading, which may be too early to comment on the true experience of running a coffee bar, but my experiences have been amazing so far.
Since opening, roughly how many customers do you see in a day?
Lots and lots, but more pleasingly we are seeing some faces very regularly. It's great to start learning names and remembering drinks orders. Every café has the ‘flat white guy’ or ‘reads a lot dude’ and we’re really enjoying creating our cast of coffee shop characters.
What is your favourite coffee drink?
Flat white, all the way. Most of our customers agree.
What snack do you enjoy most with a cup of coffee?
This is a real opportunity to plug some of our amazing bakes, but I’m going to stay humble. I usually keep it lean and double up on the coffee.
You can find out more about EH9 ESPRESSO on their Instagram page @eh9.espresso. If you are ever in Dundee, consider stopping by the shop for a coffee.
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