There are a few things that you can never have too much of. One is pizza, one is sex and the other is Pokémon. But you also cannot have too many new, independent businesses opening in the city, and so I went down to speak to Nicola Bell and Alex Hill, who are opening a brand new Melbourne-inspired coffee shop Another Heart to Feed, down on Chapel St just off Deansgate…
Nice to see you both, thanks for meeting with me. Now I’ve heard that you’ve both been away from Manchester for quite a while, how long has it been?
Alex: 5 years! It’s mental mate; Manchester is a new city since we went away to Melbourne. Totally new.
How'd you mean
Alex: I can't believe how much money is being spent here, there's so many new buildings going up and new restaurants and bars opening, basically people are spending money again.
When we left, just after the financial crisis, it seemed very stagnant, the Northern Quarter had all the same bars. Nothing was opening. But now, well you can't go to sleep at night without waking up to somewhere new - so we came back and were like “WOW, fuckin hell!”
Nicola: We’ve been impressed by the quality too!
Alex: Yeah you’ve got so many more independents, quality is going through the roof, it's really exciting.
How about the coffee shop game?
Alex: When we left it was just Starbucks, Nero, Costa. That’s pretty much it, with only a few independents.
So we landed in Melbourne and there's no chains whatsoever. Every single coffee shop is independent. We were blown away by the fact that every suburb you go to in Melbourne; the focus of the community is shop local. Support your local coffee shop - don't go to the chains.
Nicola: And so there isn’t actually a prototype for a Melbourne coffee shop because every coffee shop has got its own personality, with its own unique features but they all manage to still tick all the boxes in terms of service and coffee and food and supporting local businesses and sustainability and so that is what we are aiming for too.
Alex: And so when you go to these places, the quality is actually better than going to a chain - so we thought - you can do this in Manchester - you can be better than the big chains.
Nicola: We loved it and thought - we need to bring a piece of this back with us back to Manchester.
I agree with what you're saying about Manchester, I've just got back from a year in London and things have changed dramatically - loads of places have popped up…
Alex: It's independents too which is a key thing, all of a sudden there has been this movement of people having the confidence to say I'm going to try and open something.
Nicola: Understanding that people's spending habits and the way they choose to spend their money is all heading in the direction of independents. I think some of the press helps, with news on off shore bank accounts etc.
Yeah I think the UK has been sort of in a strangle hold for the last 10-15 years by the big chains, especially in terms of food, supermarkets and coffee shops…
Nicola: It's the Starbucks and the big corporations that we want to move away from. Places with no soul, where you could be anywhere in the world, coz they all look the same and sell the same stuff.
Alex: Instead of talking about Rochdale having an M&S, people should be talking about new independents popping up - that's much more impressive.
OK so tell me something about the actual coffee shop. Start with the name…
Alex: We’re called Another Heart to Feed. People always seem to say we are Melbourne themed, we're not Melbourne themed…
You're not Walkabout are you?
Alex: Nah, people are not going to walk in and we've got corks on our hats and Paul Hogan pictures all over the walls! We are a Mancunian coffee shop that is inspired by our time in Melbourne and the coffee scene they have. That's a key point that, we have been living in Melbourne for the last 4 years, and all the things we're trying to do, we've seen first-hand and we've experienced first-hand.
What we're looking to do is bring a bit of the quality that we've seen overseas but do it with a little Manc twist.
Nice. So I’ll put you on the spot now, what are you going to be offering?
Alex: In terms of the coffee side of things, you've got your usual lattes, cappuccinos, espresso drinks, and also some filter coffee as well…
Nicola: We've also got ourselves a tea supplier who's in Castlefield - called Bohea Teas who will be doing our loose leaf tea and we're going to be using a Melbourne company for our chai - called Prana Chai.
Alex: Basically you can't go to a coffee shop in Melbourne and not get a Prana Chai - we couldn’t not stock it really.
Nicola: We’ve actually just come back from a meeting with a supplier, we’ve been looking at hot chocolates. We’ve even got a white chocolate one here.
Very nice! So do you have to go through meetings for every product that you've got?
Nicola: We don't want to be people who we don't know who we've bought from because we've not even met them. It's not enough to just exchange a few emails and then that's it, we want to do more than that really.
The worst thing is when you're serving something and you know nothing about it...
Nicola: What we want to do is have that relationship right from the start, and know exactly what we're buying in to.
Alex: Our coffee supplier has a really structured training programme, unparalleled quality control, and experienced roasters.
Nicola: They're shit hot, there's even one guy whose only job is to taste the coffee, that's all he does.
Imagine his breath...
Nicola: Making sure that every coffee batch that goes out is up to scratch and consistent.
Alex: You've got to trust your product, and we wanted to make sure that we did, with everything we sell.
So as someone who's not into coffee, what else have you got for me?
Alex: The food that we're going for has a Melbourne slant to it so you've got: Smashed Avocado, toasted sourdough bread, in-house made granola with fresh fruit and we're even doing something called an Acai Bowl.
What the bloody hell is that?
Alex: You'll find it in nearly every single Melbourne coffee shop, and it essentially looks and almost tastes like ice cream but it’s a really thick smoothie made with acai berries and almond milk. It can then be topped off with granola, or fruit or whatever you like really. I think that’s something not many people will have seen before.
Nicola: Bagels, smoked trout bagels, sandwiches, pulled pork bagels...
Alex: Sweet treats like brownies…
Nicola: Banana bread…
Ooh now banana bread is the fittest thing in the world!
Alex: And again, very Aussie. They love it. You can get it in every coffee shop. Our food is going to be a mixture - we don't want to be pigeon holed as a 'health food place'. You will be able to get stuff that you can eat 'guilt free' in there but you can also get yourself a massive Pulled Pork butty or a big bit of brownie - there's something for everyone.
Alex: So we've got in-house freshly squeezed orange juice, Cheshire pressed apple juice…
I don’t have a clue what that is…
Alex: I don’t know what that is either.
Nicola: It's like a fermented, sweetened green tea, which is really good for your gut.
Alex: We'll be doing complimentary sparkling water and table service as well, which is something that also comes with Melbourne coffee shops.
Alex: Well a lot of the times in Manchester, you go into a coffee shop and it's not table service, so what we're going to do is people will be welcomed to sit down, take a seat, free water and then give them a menu.
We feel that level of service is possible. Just because it's a coffee shop doesn’t mean you can’t do table service. Which is very rare in Manchester at the moment too.
Nicola: Yeah and I think that if you're paying £7 for a bagel, you as a customer would want someone to come and take your order instead of queuing up at the front counter for ages.
It’s a big thing to put people at ease when they enter; to be greeted by someone and they know what's going on…
Alex: Yeah and we don't want to be one of those places that is full of coffee snobs - we want people to be comfortable and we want people to be asking us questions, Nicola and I will be front of house and we are so passionate about the service that we want delivered, that people will be made to feel at ease straight away.
A very important question here, personally – can I have a couple of beers with my food after a particularly heavy Friday night?
Alex: We have an alcohol licence and one thing that we do want to focus on with our alcohol offering is solely Australian produce. So you've got Coopers Pale & Vale Ale. We've got Young Henry’s Ales, as well as wine from Yering Station and Two Hands…
Nicola: …and we've actually visited those wineries!
Alex: So it's going to be an opportunity for people to experience Australian beers and wines, which you can’t really get anywhere else in Manchester.
Nicola: Or it's very rare that you'll find it in Manchester.
Alex: Our beer supplier is actually an Aussie guy in London, who arrived there and was struggling to find any of the beers he wanted from back home, so decided to import them himself.
Nicola: So we've got a selection of beers that you can get in most coffee shops in Melbourne, but you can’t find in Manchester.
Alex: Again, it's a Melbourne thing - you go for a boozy brunch - you meet your mates at 12 o clock on a Saturday and you get on the beers and that's something we're keen to bring into Manchester.
How did you both even decide to come up with this idea and want to do it in Manchester?
Alex: I think where this idea actually originated from was we were actually working on an avocado farm up in Queensland, for 3 months we picked avocado, and we were introduced to the beautiful Australian produce and gorgeous farm land, all local…
Nicola: Then all of a sudden we got to Melbourne and every coffee shop had this dish, smashed avocado, and the pieces sort of fell into place (thinking, we probably picked some of these!) and the idea just sort of started snowballing from there really.
Finally, what are you most looking forward to when you do get open?
Nicola: It's going to be a hard graft but it's also going to be fun too!
Alex: It's exciting...
Nicola: Yeah I'm really looking forward to being in there when it's busy, serving, chatting to people and generally contributing to the Manchester local independent scene.
Well I wish you both the best of luck, and don’t judge me when I come in for a pulled pork bagel and 3 beers, looking like I’ve just woken up in the Rochdale canal.
Set to open in early March, Another Heart to Feed is sure to add something exciting and different to the Manchester coffee scene, and with future plans to expand into ‘After Hours’ evenings, they are sure to be successful in transferring some of that Melbourne local culture to Manchester.
Another Heart To Feed
77 Chapel Street, Salford M3 5BZ.