As the world began to shut down during lock-down, many of us watched nervously as our cherished independent local cafes, bars and shops were forced to close their doors and grind their businesses to a halt.
Luckily, rapid innovation and adaptation meant that some were able to re-open as takeaways and shops, by-passing government measures to serve their communities once more.
My local cafe Nue Ground is one such example, and I have seen first hand the different stages it has worked through to survive. A recent opening, Nue Ground’s popularity had soared within the local community, with the pandemic hitting at a point where the business had begun to thrive.
I caught up with co-founder Joanna Mangion, a Clapham local whose business partner and husband Jayke is responsible for some of the area’s favourite venues including Brickwood, WC, Old Town Tavern and Joe’s Public Pizza.
Can you tell me a little bit about Nue Ground and why you decided to open this cafe?
Open only 3 months before lockdown, Nue Ground was quickly establishing itself as an all day, local café bar based in the heart of Abbeville Village. I wanted to create something new for the area that would also complement the village’s existing businesses, offering an inviting, open space while striving to be at the forefront of cafes contributing to a sustainable future. Promoting health, mind and body along with community and environment is at the heart of what we do!
How did you adapt to stay open during most of the lock down period?
After the initial shock of lockdown we closed for a few weeks .We were so heartbroken, like all operators in the industry, but more so as we were just getting started. Soon however, we re-opened as we felt we could contribute and help make a difference within the local community, and also needed to do all we could to save our business.
We adapted our cafe and converted the front bar to a general store offering vegan items, organic fruit & veg and in-house baking which were well received. We also built an online shop of essentials to add alongside our existing sustainable gifts.
Are there any changes you’ll be keeping going forwards?
The feedback was really positive, so much so we decided to leave these as permanent features alongside the cafe which reopened on the 4th of July.
Do you feel like there’s been an increased sense of community in Abbeville Village?
We felt there was a very strong sense of community among our customers over lockdown who supported us, even just with small purchases, and showed us they appreciated what we were doing. We loved seeing customers leaving messages, cards and emails with words of support and encouragement.
Helping vulnerable, self-isolating and shielding locals really gave us a sense of reward that outweighed the fear of opening so early (following guidelines we were able to operate safely and feel a strong position come July).
Have you been serving old regulars or seen an influx of new customers since re-opening fully?
Before the pandemic we had always offered NHS discounts and complimentary meals for ambulance staff and are happy to continue supporting them even more so in these difficult times – they have been regulars weekly.
We have seen an influx of new customers that would normally commute to the city, discovering Nue Ground while working from home. We have also welcomed most of our regular customers from pre-lockdown who have loved coming back even for just a take away coffee as it gives them ‘that sense of normality’.
What’s been the worst outcome of Coronavirus lockdown?
There was definitely a significant loss of revenue throughout lockdown and we had to remodel the business to remain open. It was very challenging to get our basic supplies as many suppliers were either closed, struggling to re-open or their supply chain had been compromised.
Have there been any positives?
We did gain a lot of new customers and built a very strong relationship with Abbeville locals – the community appreciated our effort and helped us in return. We became more resilient too!
What do you think will be the long term impact of the Coronavirus on London’s cafe and breakfast industry?
I believe people will no longer go out as much as they used to, being so accustomed to dining in at home. The City of London will be impacted the most due to offices not being reopened and most of the small cafes and restaurants will have to close their businesses, resulting in job losses – we’ve started noticing it already. There has been a lot of talk locally that Londoner’s will eventually move out beyond the suburbs with the rise of flexible working.
What are your hopes and fears for the future?
I hope people will carry on supporting each other and that the sense of community will continue to thrive. I fear more closures as customers change their way of living, and may not be able to afford to dine out as a result of job losses.
Find Nue Ground on Abbeville Road SW4 and make the most of its sun trap of a terrace before the cold weather hits.