Steep Street Coffee House is a literary coffee shop inspired by the famous book cafés of Paris. Interesting and arty books line the walls – poetry and local literature, classics and coffee table hardbacks. In the tradition of the first European coffee houses the space is a hub for lively conversation, meetings, reading, writing and entertaining. All of this fuelled, of course, by their speciality coffee, sandwiches, salads, paninis, patisserie and a good deal of home-made cake.
Stephen: Wherever I go I scout out new cafes because I think that a good café is the perfect escape. I suppose that’s why I have always talked about opening my own one. It was a trip to Paris that first got Alice on to the idea of opening a book café back home. A three hour commute to London everyday was the push I needed to jack in my job and try and make it happen. I couldn’t go back to the day job.
Alice: Graduating in Art and Design I did the usual career soul searching before ending up at an environmental charity in Brighton, a job I loved. All the life experiences I had before starting Steep Street helped define the approach I wanted to take when running the café – for instance, working to lessen our environmental impact with vegware takeaway cups and recycling, having an inclusive and open working culture and trying to source our ingredients ethically.
Why Folkestone ? We first visited Folkestone by chance as we were given a hotel voucher and took a room at The Grand Burstin Hotel. We didn’t know anything about Folkestone but it quickly became clear that there were lots of things going on. We stumbled across events and the art trail and loved the beautiful Creative Quarter. It seemed so intriguing and the kind of community that we wanted to be part of.
The beginning ? Looking back at the photos of what the building looked like before we took it on, it’s hard to believe we did all the work in six weeks. We got the keys in early October 2015 knowing that we had to be open for the Christmas light turn on. Luckily for us, the premises were restored to a very high standard by our landlord, the Creative Foundation. That said, we still had our work cut out fitting out the café, the kitchen as well as building all the bookshelves. With the exception of the electrics and the plumbing we did the work ourselves. It was incredibly intense time but also very enjoyable. We just managed to make our deadline, opening at midday on 20 November 2015, and we were overjoyed to serve our first customers. Five hours later when there was a queue out the door and the street was full with hundreds of people it was surreal. We had no staff but both our families helped out and it was all hands on deck.The project that we had been working on and talking about for years was finally a reality and the people of Folkestone liked it. That was a big relief!
Meeting people ? Steep Street brings us into contact with so many people from all walks of life. Sometimes when you look out into the café you see a collection of the most unlikely people sitting side by side and it’s wonderful. You experience snippets of people’s lives, sometimes big moments and sometimes small.
Food? We are both big foodies and coffee lovers and it has been fun designing new food items and keeping an eye on the latest eating trends. Recently we have been focussing a lot more on healthy options. Our newest item is raw cake which is an antioxidant-packed treat made from raw cocoa powder, nuts, spices and with no added sugar. We try really hard with our food and cakes to be fresh, inventive and tasty. We work to provide a good range including vegan and veggie options. Part of what drives us is trying to produce as much of what we sell as possible, making our food from scratch means we can control exactly what goes into it avoiding artificial ingredients and e-numbers. We have a number of suppliers including Troo Granola just 100m from our door. We use free range RSPCA assured eggs and our tea is fairtrade. Our milk is sourced through the Dairy Development Group that ensures farmers receive a fair price.
Books ? It’s nice to think of a room that is used for conversation to be lined from floor to ceiling with pages of ideas, stories and thoughts. We also like the fact that people interact with the books and look at them during their visit. It was a stroke of luck that just before we opened Steep Street we were able to buy the complete collection of a retiring book dealer. Ten thousand books and many car-journeys later, we had transported them across to Folkestone. The rest is history.
Art ? Our first ever event was a very successful performance art piece hosted by local arts organisation Threads. During the book festival week we held a number of literary themed activities including talks and workshops. We have also been lucky enough to host two exhibitions of bespoke work by Thurle Wright, an internationally exhibiting artist with a studio a few doors down from us. Her work, made from paper and books is incredibly intricate and stunningly beautiful. Both exhibitions have left a legacy of permanent work which we treasure.
Coffee ? First and foremost people come to us for a great cup of coffee. Our small but growing range of Steep Street coffees (blends and single estates) is made up of beans that have been carefully selected for their origin and intrinsic flavour. Our Rainforest Alliance certified House Blend is a combination of Arabica coffees from Kenya, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Chocolate ? We have an exciting new project making and selling artisan chocolates that are vegan friendly. Our aim is to create chocolates with maximum taste and decadence but using no animal derived ingredients. The range of chocolates is all organic and made using fairtrade ingredients. The chocolate shop is open every weekend but our longer term plan is to compliment this with an online shop – it’s one of the many projects we work on in our free time!