Quarantine Coffee: Stol Coffee interview

In March 2020, as collective panic set in, Peter decided to rally for his community. Living by the maxim “together is better,” long before words to that effect became an emblem of the pandemic, Peter decided to get on his bike – quite literally, and bring his homemade, lovingly brewed coffee to the masses of Penarth.

Peter, you set up a business at a time when most people would’ve suggested that wasn’t the thing to do – what were your motives for setting up Stol?

P: You can say that again, not only was it the start of a pandemic, but my partner was also pregnant with our second child. I’ve worked in hospitality for years and it seemed to me that the time to be hospitable was then, more than ever. I love the industry, there’s great inclusivity but a lot of people in it are also greatly unappreciated

Is community something that’s important to you?

P: Absolutely, that was a huge part of why I did this.

Can you tell us about the logistics of the business? Obviously when you were setting up, we were in a nationwide lockdown. How did you get around that?

P: So, I’ve got my trike that I take down to the sea front in the morning and I have my box on the front with the coffee and cookies. When I get home, I get started on baking for the next day, I create everything for Stol myself.

Having worked in hospitality for so long, did it feel daunting to go alone without the comfort of colleagues and a regular pay cheque?

P: Yes and no. I’m a photographer as well, so this gives me the opportunity to pursue both of my passions with greater ease. But I think the main thing I’d like to say about is that one of the reasons I wasn’t overly daunted is because I didn’t go into this thinking “how much money can I make?” The first three years of running your own business are notoriously difficult and this is just my opinion – but if the only questions you’re asking yourself are to do with pricing and money, then you’ve lost it. I had a real reason and I think customers can see that; they believe in what I do.

How do you put the emphasis on your customer?

P: When I ask my customers how they are, I really mean it. If they’re going through a hard time or they’ve had a bad week, they tell me. I take the time to listen and build a rapport with them, I mean even doing this interview, how many times have I had to stop to talk to a customer passing by! We need to get back to the crux of what it means to work in hospitality – to be hospitable.

Did you have a way of reaching customers in your community who perhaps can’t get down to the seafront for a Stol fix?

P: Yes, I do deliveries to any customers who struggle to get down to me on any given day, they all have my number and will just give me a call. One of my favourite memories is when a son had asked me to do a delivery for his mum who lived on the same street, but obviously they couldn’t see each other. She was so happy to get something personal from her son – to know he was thinking of her. Food has a great way of connecting people, of making us feel better when times are tough, and I love being able to help orchestrate that.

What would be your advice to people who’d like to have their own independent food/drink business?

P: What’s your USP? You can’t beat the big companies on price, so ask yourself what you can beat them on. Customers will come back to you for the experience – focus on that. And on having an incredible product, of course.

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