Coffee and Interview with Dan Thompson

24 January 2015 - In the first of a series of interviews over the next year, highlighting people in the speciality coffee industry, we've spoken to Daniel Thompson, head of coffee development at Soho House, about the challenges involved in bringing quality coffee into an existing, large-scale operation.

BC: To start things off, tell us a bit about your background in coffee and your current remit at Soho House. 
DT: I’ve been lucky to work with a range of people including big coffee companies, small boutique roasters and some of the best coffee shops and restaurants in London. Prior to SHG I headed up the wholesale division for Caravan Coffee Roasters. Now at SHG we are attempting to change the quality of the coffee and mentality behind it on a global scale. 

BC: Why is Soho House interested in speciality coffee? Was it member-driven? Or the company recognising the trend?
DT: In short, I would have to say both. SHG are always striving to improve and evolve. As the speciality coffee industry grew up so did its consumers. People started to expect more. The Group observed these changes over time, in how they affected the consumer and the market, and knew that they wanted to evolve this part of their business.

BC: Is Soho House’s speciality offering London-centric, or global? If global, which other roasters do you work with abroad?
DT: The Coffee Development Programme will eventually cover all of our sites globally. Currently our main speciality roasters are Origin Coffee Roasters in the UK, Blue Bottle Coffee in the US, Bonanza Coffee in Berlin and De Mello Palheta in Toronto. We also offer local guests roasters rotating across selected bars. 

BC: Soho House’s two new London coffee operations, Hubbard & Bell and Barber & Parlour, were amongst the highlights of last year. What has been the secret to their success? 
DT: I am not sure I can put it down to one thing. It’s a combination of talented and experienced baristas and floor staff and managers who are willing to learn and grow as our coffee programme does. These two bars do coffee differently to most of our sites and success has been achieved because we’ve made operational changes in all aspects of delivery. 

BC: Why did you choose to work with Origin as the primary supplier of both cafes?
DT: It was important that we chose a partner that would grow with us and assist with a very hands-on approach during each stage of the transformation. The Origin team have been a fundamental part of why 2014 was a successful year and we look forward to achieving even more in 2015 with their much appreciated help and contributions. 

BC: What are the biggest challenges you face in your position?
DT: We are trying to completely change the entire coffee culture of the Soho House Group. Making the coffee an experience rather than an afterthought. This applies to everyone involved from bartenders and floor staff to architects and financial controllers – but it’s also about managing members’ expectations. We are making big changes but the improvements have to come in stages, this is what will deliver a true transformation that is lasting and sustainable. 

BC: Is there more to come this year?
DT: Big openings this year include Soho House - Istanbul, Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire and the Hoxton Hotel - Amsterdam (food and beverage operation like the set up in Holborn). We also have various other development projects and plenty of other events to keep an eye on around the globe.

More details here:
Dan is on Twitter at @MrDan_Thompson

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