Craig Wills is the co-owner of Farm on Cowcross Street, an independent cafe which sells “honest British food”. Katy Salter talks to him about bacon baps, competing with the chains, and why the council should appreciate ravers stumbling out of Fabric…
What’s the story behind Farm?
Five years ago, I was working inLondon and going away to Devon and Hampshire at the weekends to see friends. I’d pick up great food in farmers’ markets that I just couldn’t get here. I’d moan about it to friends, who said stop moaning and do something about it. So I took an arch in Bethnal Green and made sausage rolls and sarnies and a delivery guy took them round offices. My friend Dom was working in the city. He wanted a change and became my business partner. We put together a Dragon’s Den-style pitch to investors to raise money for a shop, and we opened on Cowcross Street in 2009.
What’s the ethos behind Farm?
The idea of Farm is great, honest British food at reasonable prices that aren’t the reserve of the wealthy few. We’re not one of those second mortgage places. I grew up in Rugby, where my father had an allotment, so I always thought it was funny when people paid a fortune for carrots covered in mud.
Why did you choose Clerkenwell for your first cafe?
When we opened on Cowcross Street in 2009, it felt like the heartland to us. Some of our suppliers sold produce in Smithfield Market. And we liked that Clerkenwell had one of the most diverse sections of workers in London – the lawyers from the law courts, the digital darlings, the guys from the market.
What are your best-sellers?
We sell an enormous amount of breakfast baps. We use Paul Rhodes bread and we don’t scrimp on the bacon. We sell them to lots of hungover people. At lunchtimes, we get an interesting mix of people in – from the traditional boys in for a sausage roll to designers in for pie and mash. And people walk a long way to get one of our peanut butter brownies.
Do you worry about the amount of chains on Cowcross Street?
We made a conscious decision to go head to head with the chains. We were flanked by two Starbucks when we opened, and one’s now closed down. I believe there’s room for everybody. I feel proud when I see Polpo, Hix, St John and us – it’s an interesting area and a destination for tourists. But Clerkenwell is becoming more homogenised – don’t take these things away. More chains are coming in and rates have gone up. There are higher rates for eating outside, too. The council should be careful what it wishes for. I’d love the council to come down at 5.30am and see the unique mix – the guys from the market in The Hope, the Italian ravers coming out of Fabric. We hang on because we believe in what we’re doing.
Are your customers coffee savvy?
Very much so. People now demand to have a really good coffee as the norm. London has got to the stage of Melbourne or Sydney [as a coffee city] now. We serve a pretty consistentcup. We use Square Mile Coffee Roasters. Workshop on Clerkenwell Road is good, too.
Do you get time to hang out in the area?
Definitely. I love Polpo – the building, the atmosphere. I’m envious of what they’re doing. I love drinking at Jerusalem Tavern, too. It’s a workers’ crowd, no fuss.
We want to branch out into retail with our own products. Two more shops would be good this year – we’ve just opened a cafe in Bank. We want to keep the principle of honest British food and grow the connections between farm and city. We set up a foundation and are partnering with CHICKS, a brilliant charity for city children who are disadvantaged or carers. It takes them for breaks in the countryside. We’d like to support them more as we grow.