Chris Johnson and Alex Beeston have transformed a disused public toilet into a cosy café/bar on the Tottenham High Road - the new space is called The High Cross (external link).
The toilets dated back to the 1920s and the pair have been at pains to maintain much of the original features including the ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’ signs outside and many of the original tiles.
They plan to be serving food and drink at their new venture over lunchtimes and in the evenings, from Tuesdays to Sundays, and are looking forward to installing tables outside for the warmer weather.
We met the dynamic duo to discuss their business and how the Opportunity Investment Fund has benefitted them.
Why the name?
Chris: “This area is called High Cross. It takes its name from the Tottenham High Cross monument close by which marked the centre of what was Tottenham village in the 17th Century. Also, we’re not the first licensed premises to pop up in a former public convenience and didn’t want to go down the route of novelty names and be too jokey! We’d like to maintain a link to the area and acknowledge the history.”
Chris: “I live here and really like the area. And, I think, that if you actually want to set-up on your own and start from scratch then Tottenham is a good place to do it because it’s much more affordable.”
Alex: “We also think that people in this area are crying out for somewhere to go. A lot of people we speak to are really looking forward to this opening because they feel they have limited options around here. Then there’s the development of the Spurs stadium with an extra 25,000 fans so we’ll have some great foot fall from match days and we’re close to Seven Sisters tube so we’re easy to get to. What we want to create is a place where everybody who comes here from outside will say, ‘I wish we had this in our neighbourhood.’”
How did you hear about the Opportunity Investment Fund?
Chris: “I think I read about it in the original application pack for letting this premises. The council was keen to rent it to an independent, start-up. And I think they probably realised that if they were going to do that then somebody will have to borrow from that fund. So, in the application pack at the bottom, it did say you could apply for the OIF if you wanted to take on this business and I knew there was money put aside.”
What has the OIF money been used for?
Chris: “For us to start from scratch and renovate the building and pay for materials etc. We borrowed about £72,000 and I think we’ll have a little bit left for when we actually start – to pay for little things like secondary glazing when it starts to get colder again. To be perfectly honest I don’t think there’s a better way to borrow money.”
Alex: “It’s a helping hand and it makes it more realistic for us to do this. The interest is also good. It makes a project like this viable because of the low interest and because you can negotiate your terms.”
How have you found working with the council on the loan and wider business support?
Alex: “It was a good process to go through. It was hard work doing the financial forecasts and the Dragon’s Den-style presentation but it was fairly straightforward.
Chris: “We knew the council wanted to help us and they knew we were the right candidate and they put us through the proper due diligence. They as public servants are accountable for the release of public funding. Everyone we’ve come into contact with wants to help us and Keith Trotter (Tottenham Town Centre Growth Manager) has been great.”
Would you recommend the OIF to other businesses?
Alex: “Definitely. It has been a very positive experience and a very interesting one. And the council has been very helpful. They are at the end of the phone if you need them.”
Tell us some more about your business…
Alex: “We’ve been working in hospitality for the past ten years and when we heard that Haringey Council was advertising this premises as a potential leasehold we were intrigued. We think the building dates back to the 1920s but it’s been disused for the past 30 years and it’s been a real privilege to restore and transform it. To turn it into something different from what it was has been exciting.”
Chris: “In time we’ll be open for lunches and dinners, serving up a variety of hot and cold meals, snacks and Sunday roasts. Local produce is important to us so we’ll be serving local beers such as Pressure Drop, Beavertown and Redemption. Wildes Cheese will be on the menu and we’ll be buying our food from places such as Holcombe Market so we’ll be spending a lot of our money down the High Road.
“And we’re very keen for this to be seen as a community space. We will be able to host community groups and organisations here in the mornings, before we open, and once we get the kitchen open I’m thinking of running cookery courses and baking workshops. Once upon a time this was a community building so it’s nice that people can see it once again as a community asset.”