Deptford's favourite vegetarian hangout The Waiting Room needs your help to keep on doing what they do best. We spoke to founder Alec about the Waiting Room's future, being a business owner and morning madness.
MOMA HQ has been located in Deptford, South East London since Tom opened an office there back in 2006. During that time, we've seen the rough & ready high street transform, the people change and the hipsters migrate. But one thing that's stayed the same is The Waiting Room. Serving only vegetarian and vegan food and brilliant coffee, this little cafe has become something of a Deptford institution. But now finding themselves needing to move premises, the Waiting Room needs a helping hand. We spoke to the founder of the Waiting Room, Alec about its history, rolling with the punches of being a small cafe and how to make more of your morning.
So you’re the owner of the Deptford institution that is the Waiting Room café – tell us about the Waiting Room and how it came to be?
Myself and Marcus from Kids Love Ink first came to Deptford back in 2006 to set up the tattoo studio at 142 Deptford High Street. We had both lived in, worked in and partied in New Cross since around 2000. Deptford did still have a stigma at the time of being rough n' ready for sure but we saw real potential in the area for such a venture. We put in a lot of hours and graft but we were lucky and very soon we were a busy little High Street studio. After the studio got busier we made the decision to move to a larger premises. It was all set up; we moved to 138 and had someone ready to take over the lease of 142. Even though the new tenants had already kitted the place out as an off licence, at the final hour they had a change of heart and handed back the keys. We had to do something so after much consideration and what we thought would work well, (and what the High St needed,) we decided the Waiting Room was the way to go. 7 years on, I think we made the right choice! A few people have said that we are an institution now; we've certainly been here the longest! We've just held our ground, rolled with the many, many punches and have been too stubborn to leave!
What challenges have you faced as a small business owner?
There are the usual worries like competition, working the balance between family and work and what we are facing now with our Landlord, but the biggest challenge by far its the ever increasing cost of running a business; so many things that many people (including myself) didn't or don't think about. There's the obvious rent, taxes and vat, rates, utilities and wages but then also waste collection, music licences, insurance, outside seating licences, maintenance... the list goes on and all of which are increasing on a regular basis. The only way to counter this is by increasing our prices which is always something I worry about. As Deptford changes I still want to be accessible to the people who have lived here and made the neighbourhood what it is; some of whom may not be able to afford the prices that are expected by many moving into the area. Its a fine balance for sure but the reality is we have to be profitable to stay open.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to open their own café or restaurant, or any other small business?
Be prepared for it to consume your life for a while. If you are serious about making it work it'll be a hard slog with many sacrifices. Surround yourself with good staff... their commitment is what will drive things forward as you can't do it all yourself. Research the area you are moving too...is what you want to offer needed there? You will be a very lucky place is you can survive solely on people travelling to visit you. Try to become part of your neighbourhood because as we have seen, they will rally behind you and help if/when it goes south.
How do you usually start your day?
I'm a new dad so my mornings are pretty much consumed by getting the boy feed, watered and ready to go. As I'm sure many will back me up, more often than not your breakfast is eaten over the sink, finishing the leftovers... its hardly a stress free, relaxing experience! I always drop by the coffee shop and grab my fix whilst he runs around getting to know everyone. Then its off to nursery for him and off to work to me.
If you had a little bit of extra time in the morning, how would you spend it?
We do normally go for a play in a local playground or take a walk along the Thames, (Deptford to Greenwich and back is still one of my favourite things to do in London,) but I would love to be able to go swimming with my son or have more time for something like this.
You’re currently running a crowd funder campaign for The Waiting Room to move premises – how can people pledge?The link for the KickStarter is on our Twitter and Instagram and its easy to search for it on Facebook. Our full story of why we have to do this is there so please give it a read and if you feel inclined, please give whatever you can. It's been amazing how many people have already pledged but also how many have offered their services and support. It's been a proud realisation about what the Waiting Room means to so many people. What Kev and all the staff have done and achieved throughout the years to make it what it is today is amazing and I am honoured to be a part of that. We never wanted to be everyone's cup of tea, (or coffee) but we are unique for sure... To pledge to the Waiting Room, visit their Kickstarter page here.