Behind the big picture windows of a chic, dark shopfront, Edinburgers have spotted something new in Stockbridge Village: 1. a giant fridge full of flowers, lit up like a beacon on Edinburgh’s dark winter afternoons 2. a scattering of leafy green plants on tall wooden trollies 3. a big, bright, shiny espresso machine and 4. a bunch of contented coffee drinkers. Many have wondered what strange hybrid of retailer has colonised Stockbridge. Some walk on, slightly suspicious, while a few bravely cross the threshold into a different kind of retail space, as yet unseen in our city.
Intrepid souls have already visited this combined florist/cafe: an entrepreneurial experiment dreamed up by Edinburgh’s own coffee revolutionaries: roastery/cafe group, Artisan Roast and their rather visionary florist friends at The White Petal Company. Hoping to revitalise sales and boost footfall, it was the original owners of the Stockbridge florist who approached Artisan Roast with the idea to co-share space. They chose just the right folk. Nearly ten years ago, founders Gustavo and Mike made it their mission to bring good coffee to Edinburgh – an elusive entity at the time. Their motivation was altruistic: “We wanted everyone to have our coffee because we wanted Edinburgh to have good coffee, not the generic coffee we were all used to, because we love it and we think more people should, too.”
It is thanks to them that so many independent coffee shops have since sprung up across town. Back in 2007, Gustavo observed a cultural shift from big supermarket and chain-shopping towards smaller, local shops like artisan bakeries with sit-in tables. He noticed people increasingly “wanted to go to a place where they know the people and see them preparing the food in front of them. We thought it could be the same with coffee.” Their first shop selling beans became a café by default – sample cups won immediate devotees – and soon a distinct brand arose from a humble coffee “den.” Three additional cafes followed across Edinburgh and Glasgow, plus a separate roastery in a south side industrial estate and now even a ‘coffee lab’ in the city centre for real boffin stuff: testing, grading and analysing beans before delivery to their many customers. The business now encompasses a thriving wholesale arm, providing coffee for countless partner customer/cafes across Scotland.
Anyone who serves Artisan Roast’s coffee can wax lyrically (in an obsessive but 100% genuine fashion) about where their coffee comes from, how it is roasted, ground and poured and what makes it so good – but their success is not all meticulous product. Baristas who manage Artisan’s cafes also take responsibility for the ongoing training of each partner they supply, fostering a culture of education and openness that’s more collaborative than competitive. It goes both ways; several local food and drink makers have found a home in Artisan’s own cafes, too. The result is that the company can not only be credited with introducing a new kind of coffee to Edinburgh and beyond, but with helping several local brands and small businesses get their start & cross-promote i.e. Black Isle Brewery, Kitsch Soda, Coco Chocolate and Dough Re Mi Bakery, to name a few. Edinburgh’s new world of coffee culture is a strong, supportive community of people with shared passion.
Artisan’s brand history made it the perfect fit for a new kind of retail partnership in Stockbridge. The co-share has allowed both companies to take community-building to a new level by reaching an ever-wider group of local customers. So, how does it work? “It’s kind of like when you go to different market stalls in one building,” explains cafe manager Adrian. Each shop keeps their own, broadly similar, hours and their own accounts/payment systems, while expenses and utilities are split fairly between the two.
The florist retained the fridge unit (which dramatically prolongs the life of the flowers and protects them from the cafe equipment’s heat) and a small prep area while Artisan were free to use the rest. The cafe’s tables are brightened up by succulents, cacti and flower posies for sale. A storage room in the back has been transformed into a cozy “mooch” (a la Broughton St. original), coffee bean sacks lie dotted around and a few other personal touches add quirk, like barista Tom’s bike, suspended on a wall and a wee cartoon figure, scrawled above a shelf. Outside, greenery spills onto the street; wooden trollies full of flowers, bulbs and plants entice passers by to peek in, but also satisfy the council’s requirement for barriers around the cafe’s outdoor tables and chairs.
Florist Rachel took over the flower company in June of last year, spotting a unique opportunity: “Part of the battle having any shop, not just a florist, is getting people through your door. This place is great because people are already in, I’ve just got to sell to them once they’re here.” A busy entrepreneur with two other sites in Liberton and East Lothian, Rachel recognised the distinct advantages of joining with another small business to widen her client base. She agrees with Adrian that a new group of customers – who might have previously considered flower shops intimidating – are here much more likely to cross over and make a purchase. The expansive space is ideal, too: “At other shops you go in and have to wait on the florist making up a bouquet but here you can go grab a coffee and we bring it to you.” Future flower and wreathing classes are planned for the ‘mooch,’ and White Petal’s wedding business has flourished in affluent Stockbridge, with consultations held around coffee tables spread with magazines.
The success of this co-shared shop will be measured not just by the quality of coffee and flowers they sell, but what both companies do to encourage a broader cross section of the community to come together in one sociable space that’s inclusive and inspiring. A new kind of retailer for a new kind of Stockbridge? It’s then up to Edinburgh to decide.