Peter Theoklitou: owner Coffee Works Project

30 Dec

Everyone has a story. “Islington was the only place I wanted to set up a business. It was like coming home,” says Coffee Works Project owner Peter Theoklitou, whose family have long worked in the borough. Interview by Nicola Baird 

Peter Theokliou: “I’d grown up in an Islington family business so wasn’t daunted about opening Coffee Works Project up. The most exciting thing was putting my own stamp on things.”

Peter Theokliou: “I’d grown up in an Islington family business so wasn’t daunted about opening Coffee Works Project up. The most exciting thing was putting my own stamp on things.”

Peter Theoklitou was born in Islington and it’s here that he learnt all about running a business. His parents had a fish and chip shop in Spa Field Street, just off Exmouth Market and his godfather ran another fish and chip shop nearby. Although he began primary school in Islington the family eventually moved out to Goff’s Oak in Hertfordshire.

“My parents are Greek Cypriot. Mum always talks in Greek to me, and I’m teaching my two daughters,” says Peter in the sunny Coffee Works Project garden. His coffee shop, with its state of the art Slayer coffee machine and even a see-through fridge, is a very cool Islington destination with “damn fine coffee” to quote from the cult TV show Twin Peaks.

“My goal at Coffee Works Project has to create a hub for the community and showcase fantastic coffee,” says Peter. “Part of that is to only have really fresh produce, a throwback to the way we used to eat. As a child I was dragged round to greengrocers and butchers. North London has a big Greek Cypriot community so we went to speciality delis and I remember how they all had this amazing smell of fresh fruit and bread.”

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The secret garden at Coffee Works. “Our filter coffee is very delicate – like a tea. We serve it in a glass. But when I’m espressoed out my afternoon drink is flat white,” says Peter Theoklitou owner of Coffee Works Project sharing his afternoon drink of choice for an Islington Faces interview.

The secret garden at Coffee Works Project. “Our filter coffee is very delicate – like a tea. We serve it in a glass. But when I’m espresso-ed out my afternoon drink is flat white,” says Peter Theoklitou owner of Coffee Works Project sharing his afternoon drink of choice for an Islington Faces interview.

Although he studied business at the University of Hertfordshire his parents’ advice was don’t go it alone in hospitality. “I spent my formative years working in the family businesses with my family saying ‘go and work for someone else, it’s less of a headache’. I did that at first, but found I hated it because I love talking to people.”

For several years Peter worked in wedding planning. “We were on one job that lasted four days and on the last day I needed a coffee to keep me going for the last two hours. I helped myself to what the guests were having and it was diabolical! I couldn’t believe that they were serving guests this. The last flavour the guests were left with was a sub-standard cup of coffee. When I asked the chefs why, they said they had too much to worry about. We had a heated discussion and they said well ‘go and do something yourself’. That’s why I climbed into this rabbit hole,” he says with a huge grin referencing Alice In Wonderland.

Mirror at Coffee Works.

Mirror at Coffee Works Project.

It’s an appropriate metaphor. The building at the top end of Camden Passage has a magical quality. It’s on several levels, open plan and stripped back to the brickwork. On the rear ground floor level there is a grotto, although this is now doubling as a bike garage for staff. There are cushions made from coffee bean sacks, reclaimed furniture, lots of wood and an atmosphere of creativity that really isn’t matched anywhere else in Islington.

“I wanted to create the sort of hub of the community you get in Cyprus where the old boys are playing backgammon and the women on the other side will be tutting about their language. Here in London this is a place to socialise and to work – where people can meet others, enjoy coffee and talk to the baristas,” says Peter.

Chapel Market has been a part of Peter's life since his Granny first took him shopping there. (c) Isabel Vandergert-Wilson.

Chapel Market has been a part of Peter Theoklitou’s life since his grandparents first took him shopping there. (c) Isabel VanderGert-Wilson.

Places Peter Theoklitou likes in Islington

  • It goes without saying that I love Camden Passage. Everyone knows each other – it’s more of a social exercise when I wander through it. You really get to know your neighbours.
  • 20150731_095438 (1)

    Moxon’s specialises in British fish.

    Chapel Market for nostalgia. When I was a child my grandparents took me through it and as a treat we’d have fresh doughnuts.

  • I still like to go for a walk along the top end of Regent’s Canal. When my godfather had a business on St Peter Street I’d go here with my godbrothers and explore.
  • I buy fish from Moxon’s, 110 Islington High Street. My youngest, Evangelia, loves trying to crack the claws of cooked crab. My other daughter, Alexandra, likes chunky fish like monkfish.
  • Smokehouse is nice in Canonbury. The food is great and the service amazing – it’s a combination between a neighbourhood pub and an eatery. 63-69 Canonbury Road.

Two days a week Peter’s wife Joanna “the girl next door who I used to walk to school with” comes to Coffee Works Project and does the accounts. “We’re very lucky as my in laws and mum look after our daughters,” adds Peter.

It turns out that romance is a large part of Coffee Works Project – there’s the idea that customers can get creative or just socialise. But it’s a bit deeper. “One of our first customers met his now wife here – and they held their engagement party here!” says Peter looking very happy. But he is equally excited about the choices of coffee that are offered and where they are sourced.

Staff still busy at 5pm at Coffee Works on a summer afternoon.

Staff still busy at Coffee Works Project on a summer afternoon.

“People are so used to seeing coffee on the shelves in a supermarket that they don’t realise that coffee growing regions harvest beans at different times fo the year. That’s the reason we rotate our coffees every four to six weeks. Recently we bought an entire farm’s crop run by a Bolivian woman who our roaster recommended. The coffee was amazing, and it’s an amazing story – not many women run their own farms in Bolivia.”

Over the past few years coffee shops have sprung up around Islington – both as work spaces for freelancers and nice places to meet when you are out and about. But some you just keep coming back to – and that’s what Coffee Works Project seems to do to its customers. It’s good news for the 10 staff too, including the manager who has just completed an NVQ in leadership.

Peter says: “When I opened this place I thought that would be it for me, but Coffee Works Project is much more than just about me. The people who work here become an extension of our family and that’s why we want to develop a business that facilitates career opportunities for our staff. If that means opening another site, good. It would still have to deliver the ethos we have here…”

If you haven’t yet been for a cup of coffee with Islington’s cool community-spirited crowd then do go. And if you get there early you might see the croissants and cakes being delivered, sometimes still warm, by bike from Borough. “It’s just like that old Hovis ad,” says Peter with another big smile. Just with a modern twist, because you do need to take along your MacBook Air.

Happy new year!

  • Coffee Works Project, 96-98 Islington High Street, N1 (top end of Camden Passage). Open Mon-Fri from 7.30am, Sat from 9am, Sun from 10am

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

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