GRIND & CO. AN INTERVIEW WITH CEO & CO-FOUNDER DAVID ABRAHAMOVITCH & CO-FOUNDER KAZ JAMES Img 1 TAKE ONE EXCELLENT CUP OF COFFEE, ADD A DASH OF ATTITUDE, SOME SERIOUSLY WICKED PLAYLISTS, EVENING COCKTAILS AND A LARGE HELPING OF ‘HIP’, AND VOILÀ: YOU HAVE GRIND & CO. – THE MELBOURNE-INSPIRED CAFÉ CHAIN THAT’S BEEN TAKING LONDON BY STORM.
Founded in 2011 and now in its fifth year, Grind is the brainchild of London businessman, David Abrahamovitch, and Australian DJ and musician, Kaz James of BodyRockers fame. Grind’s first ever branch in trendy Shoreditch is home to its own recording studio above the café, and has been frequented by the likes of Sam Smith, Idris Elba and Tinnie Tempah.
David recounts the sad but ultimately uplifting tale of how he came to transform a former mobile phone shop on a roundabout in Shoreditch into a music and coffee lovers’ paradise. Kaz shares with us their bespoke approach to the design of each new Grind outlet they open. There are currently four branches: Soho (complete with its own local radio station), Holborn, London Bridge (the first to offer a full restaurant service) and Covent Garden, with a fifth opening soon at the Royal Exchange in the City.
And we’re delighted to announce that David is to be a judge on the panel of our brand new Cafés category in this year’s World Interiors News Awards. Read on to hear his views on the way cafés and coffee shops are having to evolve to keep their edge…
First to David…We’re delighted that you’re going to be a judge on our new Cafés category! What made you want to get involved?
David: Thanks for inviting me! I think it’s great to be recognising the design in cafés and not just in full restaurants – and I’m really excited about seeing some of the designs.
How, when and where did the two of you first meet?
David: We first met about ten or eleven years ago in the Cross Club in London. My best mate’s family owned it, and a mutual friend had suggested to Kaz that he come down and say ‘hi’. Kaz had just been signed by Universal Records in Australia and sent to London to record some music…so he came and said hello and we’ve been friends ever since.
David, when you first saw an unprepossessing round building set on Old Street Roundabout in Shoreditch, what made it scream out to you: ‘I would make a great coffee shop with a recording studio above!’ Why not some other use for it?
David: The building was actually my father’s; it had been one of a few mobile phone retail stores he owned, but unfortunately he got sick and I eventually inherited it under pretty difficult circumstances.
He and I had watched the area change, and had always said it was wasted as a phone shop and would make a great coffee shop or bar – so it was a little bit about fulfilling that idea…though unfortunately I wasn’t able to do it with Dad. If he had ever seen it he would have loved it though! The studio was Kaz’s influence – he wanted to have somewhere he could record and drink coffee and cocktails all under one roof. It was all very evolutionary…there was certainly no masterplan – we were making it up as we went along!
And Kaz, in 2005 you reached No.3 in the UK charts with dance classic ‘I Like the Way (You Move)’ with the BodyRockers. Having made such a name for yourself in the music industry, what made you team up with David to start up a business in coffee shops? Do the two somehow go hand-in-hand for you?
Kaz: My first love is music and my second love is coffee! I really missed the cafés from back home in Melbourne, and was sick of not being able to get a decent coffee anywhere. David approached me to team up with him, as he knew I loved coffee and had a really strong idea of what he thought we could create. Coffee and music are two things that are part of every single day for me – part of my routine - so putting the both of them under one roof makes total sense to me.
What do you aim to achieve with each new site in terms of design, and what are some of your inspirations?
Kaz: It’s really important to us that we move the brand on, and each time we open a new site we want to do something different. Doing a chain where every single site is exactly the same is my worst nightmare!
David: Yeah, absolutely. We start with the building and the neighbourhood it’s in. We only take beautiful buildings - they’re nearly all listed – and we adapt what we are doing for the area we are in, and the building itself. We have sites that are 300 sq ft and only sell take away coffee – and we also have sites that are 3,000 sq ft and trade 20 hours a day as a full restaurant and bar. Similarly, our original site in Shoreditch is pretty rough and ready – lots of concrete and hard surfaces - whereas our site in Holborn is much more up market – mosaic marble tiles and bespoke brass shelving.
Kaz: I travel a lot so a lot of my inspiration comes from different new things I see around the world. In every city there’s always someone doing something new and cool – it’s about picking the best bits, and then putting your own spin on it.
David: Our design team – Biasol Design – is actually based in Melbourne, and though they come over once a year, most of the work is done remotely. Which is sometimes a bit challenging logistically, but we just absolutely love their work. And, being based in Melbourne means they have a front row seat to the place in the world where probably the café/restaurant is at its most advanced and being pushed the hardest – both in terms of product and design. That gives the Grind a really unique spin – I don’t think there is anything in London that looks like our sites.
The Hub was the first hosted co-working space in London. Rather than become a franchise business, it has become a network of over 80 ImpactHubs around the world. It has a very different ethos to other more recent co-working spaces, ploughing back profits to the network. Each Hub is founded and run by a local team rather than an externally imposed management model.
The Grind brand successfully combines ‘sex coffee & rock n roll’, as one of your cinema-themed fascias advertised. Far, far more than just a café selling good coffee, your offering includes music, evening cocktails, artisan food and hip events. Do you see this kind of creative diversification as something other cafés and coffee shops will need to do in future to keep their competitive edge? Or can plain and simple still cut it?
David: Grind is the result of what we see as the inevitable convergence between the café, the bar and the restaurant into a single space that is more beautiful than its predecessors - and where the product excels beyond the norm in each category.
I think that we will see the lines between these different categories get blurred further and further – consumers are increasingly demanding and sophisticated, not just in terms of product but also environment. I think the ‘street food area’ - if not dead - is dying, and we are going to see a return to a little more refinement. I think the days of being able to get away with an amazing product in a crappy environment are numbered – I think people want an experience that includes the music and the design as much as the product.
The commercial realities of cities like London also mean that the purely daytime coffee-focused offer is getting increasingly tough. It’s one thing for the chains – who already have the high street presence and have invested in the stores – but to roll out something new now just based on coffee…
Kaz: Music and events are also a really critical part of our brand – and we spend a lot of time on our soundtracks. There is probably as much on social media about our playlists as there is about our coffee! Having the studio also means we get loads of people coming through and recording – which really adds to the buzz.
In 2012 you decided to introduce evening cocktails at Shoreditch Grind, which you since rolled out to your other outlets. What made you go that route, and did you upset any coffee purists by branching out into alcohol?
Kaz: Not at all! People love it! And our Espresso Martini’s are the best in London; they are the best of both worlds.
What makes the two of you such a winning combination?
David: I think what makes it work is we have very complimentary skill sets. I guess at the end of the day I am a businessman-cum-‘entrepreneur’ (though I hate that word) and Kaz is a musician – a creative. Kaz tours a lot and is out of the country for at least half of the year - so I drive the business forward on a day to day basis – and then Kaz brings back the best ideas he sees from around the world and helps to shape the future of Grind with me.
And what’s next for Grind?
David: We’ve just opened in Covent Garden, and are opening in an incredible Grade 1 listed site in the Royal Exchange in a couple of months. We are also doing another restaurant and opening up our own roastery – so we have quite a few things going on!
Gail Taylor
Images:

Img 1: David (Left) & Kaz (Left)
Img 2,3 & 4: Grind & Co Shorditch