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Fighting for Independents: An Interview with Phoenix Cafe

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Bristol

The Phoenix is more than a cafe. Sure it serves exceptional coffee, outstanding fresh food & offers a pay as you feel service for some of its produce, but there’s something else that makes this place exciting. It defines local & independent in its very nature and perhaps more importantly, is a huge advocate for sustainable living and has a powerful passion for the community surrounding it. As a result, it’s fast become a major face in Bristol’s small business & independents scene, not only showing how you can launch an idea on a small budget but also offer help and advice for anyone in need. Our man Woody caught Annie for a quick to find out more about what they get up to and their plans for the future.


Tell us a bit about Phoenix Cafe, how did it all begin and how long have you been going for? It all started when I met my old business partner at St. Paul’s carnival last year. We’re both single mum’s and had our own clothing labels. We started to meet up and started talking. We always wanted a café and clothing concept store along with a community space. She found this space through Meanwhile Creative so we came and checked it out. Within a couple of days we came up with an idea of what we wanted to do and took the space! Meanwhile Creative liked the idea of it being a community space as it suited the ethos they’ve been building their businesses around, and we got the ‘OK’ within the week.

We started with £400 pounds to buy coffee and equipment; we took second hand furniture to fit it out and made various pieces with pallets and things like that. Local charities also helped us source some furniture which was great. I’ve worked in house-ware since i was 16, so with all the amazingly donated furniture I got to make the place look pretty. It’s been great fun!

Tell us a bit about the food you’re doing at the minute. At the moment we’ve decided to go vegan and gluten free. We don’t know anywhere that solely does vegan patties: these are all based around lentils and vegetables. I did loads of research into making vegan and GF food and spent a whole day with one of my volunteers organising the menu and asking our regulars what they thought of the food; they added ingredients, took things out and basically helped us make the final amendments to our new menu. It’s had real community input. We keep it as affordable as possible so around the £4.00 mark for a veggie burger. But because it’s all from food waste we get buns and things like that. We also serve coffee, smoothies and protein shakes, so it can be a bit mental at times.

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We understand you’re exceptionally conscious in the sourcing of your produce. How do you go about finding the best ingredients? I live in Horfield so I walk down Gloucester road everyday on the way into Phoenix, so I pretty much get everything on the way in! I go to the butchers on Gloucester road at times when we’re serving meat; they’ve also got a great deli and cheese section. Joe’s Bakery helps us out with bread – they’re amazing.

You’re a part of the Real Junk Food Project right? How much of your food comes from waste? We only serve bread on a pay as you feel (PAYF) basis. We once served only PAYF food using food waste but found that people often didn’t donate which meant the cafe couldn’t survive. Now we are looking at using as much waste food as we can to keep the food affordable for customers.

What aspects are key to your sustainability? Phoenix is such a big project as it’s trying to stretch into all areas; food waste, sustainability and the community.  Educating people on food waste is a vital part of what we do, that’s why we like to keep the bags of bread collected on show – it always surprises people! We also try to use food we have grown in the cafe using our Aquaponics system which shows people how we’re trying to use fresh, local produce. The community aspect is something that I think people react to the most; we offer free space for people to use during the week such as charities, small businesses and artists, helping others develop and grow in a relaxed environment.  We want people to feel like they’re at home, whether they’re working in our space or just visiting.

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You’re currently Crowdfunding on Crowdfunder at the minute. Can you tell us why? It’s an effort to see if it helps pay off our sky high business rates! After starting the business with £400, how are small businesses meant to survive with such high costs?!

What are you plans for the future? We’re trying to break up Phoenix a bit and try to help people who are starting up their own small businesses. After learning from this whole experience, I’d like to use my new understanding of business rates to help others avoid the same issue. I’m currently teaming up with UWE to divide up spaces that small businesses can work in.

When you’re not busy in the kitchen, where’s your go-to Bristol hot spot? Let me see…It’s got to be Stokes Croft! Yep. Stokes Croft. Restaurants near me.

What events do you have coming up? We’re doing a speed dating night. It’s going to be a Connect Four speed dating event; each table will have a connect four board on and from there we’ll have to see what happens! Just a bit of fun really! We’ve just had a screening of Mean Girls but there’s plenty more things in the works: acoustic nights, board game nights and a variety of different workshops.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to add? The reaction has been amazing when people come in! I wanted to make The Phoenix feel like home with people fighting over gran’s armchairs! On the whole though, our ethos is that it should never be for profit; I just want people to know that we’re not in it for the money – we’re in it for great customer service and to see people smiling and sharing great ideas. We just go with the flow of our customers; if people fancy something we’ll put out there!

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If you want to find out more about the Phoenix Cafe, head on over to their Facebook or Twitter profile. Please take a minute or two to check out their Crowdfunder campaign & spread the word to keep these guys open!

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Wriggle | Award-winning app for food drink and fun in Bristol, Brighton & London.

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