An understated shop front attracts a different kind of customer. One that is open minded, confident perhaps more liberal. Basically, that’s our kind of customer.
I first noticed this in an obvious way when looking for places I’d saved on my Google map whist visiting New York. Up and down this street I walked looking for a cocktail bar called Weather Up. I finally found this blank shop front, but here was nothing, no menu, and no sign on the door, and obviously it was closed. It also had mirrored windows, so you couldn't see inside. My intrigue overwhelmed me; I just had to go there!
I think this style of shop front has come from cocktail bars emulating the Speak Easy theme and hiding from the mainstream, only the cool cats know about it. PDT (Please Don't Tell) is an obvious example. Almost like reverse psychology, the punters come flocking to the gulp down the exclusivity in their over priced, over hyped cocktails.
Sure it can be frustrating when you can’t find somewhere because the proprietor is too lazy to put up any signage, I felt this was the case at Telescope in Paris and I certainly feel this when food on display has no price or there is no sample menu on the website (yes Telescope is guilty of this too). But on the other hand, the café on the other side of the station to us in Exeter has 6 A-boards outside, along with two different café names above the door, extensive menus in the window, promotions, vinyl lettering and a neon sign flashing the word OPEN, even when the place is closed. It’s enough to put you off your dinner.
It won’t be long before there is a café with no name. The pizza place called Story in East London is nearly there, with a Nathan Barley style sign above the door. They’ve basically used a branch from a tree; we nicknamed the place twig. They’ve also priced their menu in pence, which is hilarious; I can just imagine Charlie Brooker paying £20 for his pizza with two thousand 1p coins.
The idea of NO LOGO has been around since hippies took a stance on capitalism, but I feel the distaste to “In Your Face” branding now runs deeper on a more political level, with the liberal elite choosing to be the most un-branded.
Whist on the subject of leftism I just want to prod the political agenda of Brexit, I feel the leave camp couldn’t give a shit about interesting food – “What’s Polenta, Kombucha, Kimchi? Sounds like foreign food to me” That’s why I feel a vast majority of our café customers were in the remain camp. They’d never let xenophobia get the better of them and compromise all the wonderful imports our food culture thrives on. Its true left wing people are more open-minded and malleable as a customer, maybe that’s why we’ve whittled out a customer niche of generally good people, it really makes our job so much easier.
The choice for us to have minimal signage is actually more of a reaction to the trip advisor crowd, who come-in because we’ve got good reviews on Tit-Advisor and they’ve not had the initiative to scope out what’s actually good via actual credible forms of recommendation. After scoping us out they’d walk in the door and clearly not like the style of our café and generally not like our food or drink. Why would we want a constant steam of bad clients who don't like the work we do? Both parties lose out and are unhappy.
It may seem odd to be Anti Advertising, but we strongly feel that advertising is a shortcut to success and with cutting corners, there will be consequences. The long way is unfortunately the harder way, and that’s via organic grown, word of mouth and establishing a credible reputation. This is why Monmouth Coffee, after 40 years, still has a queue coming out the door every day, they never buckle to trends, they’ve never advertised, don't do social media, they’re happy to turn wholesale customers away. This is why they’ve become an institution, whist so many good specialty coffee shops are closing down around us. There’s certainly a lesson to be learned about this kind of business model.
I’m hoping towns across the UK will now embrace this style of business in the food & drink industry. We should pride ourselves on being understated; as to me it seems a truly British characteristic. Perhaps then the UK public will regain it’s thirst for adventure and exploring, trying out places of intrigue rather than chasing the neon signs shouting ‘Special Offer’, ‘Meal Deal’ and ‘2 for 1’.