Calling this article ‘5 Minutes With’ does it somewhat of a disservice. However, cutting off the conversation at the 5 minute mark would have been even more so. My 5 Minutes (+) with George, owner of Wake & Cate, was an exploration of culture, humility and the admiration he has for his staff. The commitment to the changes to café culture brought by our post-Covid world and his plans moving forward. From the moment we sat down it was clear that with George, it’s about more than just coffee.
What is the story behind Wake & Cate and why Central Liverpool?
We started researching the UK market in 2015 before we opened in August 2016. I have partners who own cafés in Greece and Romania, where the focus is on good coffee and good cake. The idea here was to open a typical Greek bakery, meaning good coffee, good pastries and good cakes. Food was not in the picture originally; we developed this over time and now have a complete menu.
Why Liverpool? Well, we decided to avoid London and other areas of the South for a few reasons, mainly cost of living and setting up. We then looked at a few other areas (Manchester, Chester, Cheshire Oaks) but decided on Liverpool because the city centre is compact, you cannot miss the location. We looked at more fashionable locations when we landed here, however I believe our current neighbourhood represents the best of both worlds. Another factor was to look where a Greek community exists, Liverpool has that. The original plan was to expand but this place is very complicated. I’m very involved in the day to day, so it’s a no for the time being.
Have you always been in the hospitality industry?
No, I was a property developer. However, in Greece we have a strong culture of hospitality. I didn’t know anything about coffee, coffee machines, how to make an espresso. Nothing at all, zero, nada. The difference is this business is about consistency, you can’t be too consistent. Being sustainable and present, customers like to see the same faces, if I’m not here or someone is new, it’s like being a brand-new business again.
Covid made me have the time to relax and think. I knew that once we opened again it would have to be a different place, we reassessed and tried new menus. It eventually worked- there were financial hardships because we made a few mistakes, but we are now very well on track.
Let’s talk about the differences in coffee culture between Greece and the UK
Huge. Greek coffee culture is a different world. Here, the knowledge on coffee is lacking. I think this is down to the big chains, they’ve destroyed the market. Small, medium and large stupidities. A cappuccino loses its meaning, a latte loses its meaning. Each drink is a specific thing, a specific recipe. ‘Extra hot’ is also another problem.
(A fair point well made. In my opinion)
Here, you don’t stay too long in the café. In Greece, you spend three hours with a single cup.
What’s your favourite coffee to drink?
A flat white with one sugar. Out of all the milky coffees it’s the only one, that for me, keeps the aromas. I do try all of the coffees on the menu though.
You use our Single Plantation Brazilian Ipanema, what inspired this choice?
This was the coffee we were using over in Greece and we wanted it over here. In the beginning we were importing it until we found out about Adams + Russell. It’s an honest coffee. I have spent hours calibrating the equipment and making the grind perfect. I’m aware of how the ambient temperature and other factors can change things. I’d like to think I know what people expect from a cup of coffee.
The biggest part of the Speciality industry is that you have to stand out. You need to appreciate the difference and not be afraid to change things, this is what independent means.
You’re in a very busy location, what are daily operations like?
I’ve realised in the last few months that I needed to work as a barista to understand a few things about the coffee and the way we serve it. I didn’t want to interfere too much but I managed to fix a few problems and standardise the quality. The business is a living organism, you need to be on top of it all the time and adapt with the changes. We can seat 90 people inside and an additional 30 outside, it can get intense. I feel we are good at managing the emotions and expectations that come with a busy café environment. My staff deserve a lot of credit.
Tell me more about your team.
To be successful and offer consistency you need to have a very good team of staff. We’re settled and I want to keep the team as it is. They’ve all been here between two and three years. We have a good time, the attitude of the staff bring out the best of the place. We are like a family; I’m not saying I’m the dad- maybe the big brother.
Finally, describe what Wake & Cate means to you in three words.
I feel like I’m going on a playdate daily, I never know what’s going to happen. Maybe it’s better if we call it a blind date? Everything you think beforehand of a morning, changes in a few minutes.
George’s answer to my final question was by far the highlight of the interview. However, in George’s (three!) words “That’s the reality.”