Right, I’m not going to apologise for the delay in getting this next installment out. If I get into the habit of it this is going to get actually dull rather than ironically dull. So, on to Giraffe at 29-31 Essex Road.
As with everywhere I’ve been so far Giraffe is part of a chain, something that’s bound to affect the nature of the business and the people that work there. I thought. I opted for a different tactic on entry, walking in as a customer with clear intent to buy something. The goal was to try and make it slightly less awkward. Kind of worked I think. I was seated by a friendly Aussie waitress and ordered a cappuccino. I don’t really drink coffee so I’m not sure why but it seems a much more writerly drink than tea, with milk but not too much, bag squeezed against the side and in a plain white mug. Coloured mugs make tea taste different, I’ll do a blind taste test it to prove it.
I asked her if I could speak to a manager and she went off to get someone. I’d seen a bloke in a shirt behind the bar when I went in and assumed he was some sort of manager type. There were only a few tables in but he seemed busy so again I started to worry that I’d be disturbing people. When he came out I cleverly disarmed him with a handshake and an introduction. Blank face. I explained what I was doing and he looked immediately uncomfortable. He started to make noises that suggested he wasn’t keen to help. He explained that there was no way he’d be able to answer financial questions. A part of me was tempted to test him on the formula for aggregate demand or get him to explain the limitations of the Laffer curve but I gave myself an internal slap and quickly explained what I wanted to ask.
He sat down and from then on couldn’t have been more helpful or friendly. We chatted a bit about Giraffe, this was the third of the chain to open and really quite important in establishing what is now a pretty big operation. He’d only been there six months though so didn’t know too much about the history.
Giraffe is one of those upmarket chain businesses that seems to denote a town as safe for middle class people to say they’re considering moving to. I always imagine planners in charge of our identikit high streets selecting which towns get to be grade one – Giraffe, Karen Millen, Paperchase and which get the bottom rung – Wilkinsons, Poundstretcher, Agora Amusements. It’s pretty much perfect for Islington and as we’re still very much in the snoot orbit of Upper Street it seems pretty well located. It made me think of this part of Essex Road as still finding it’s own identity. Before Packington Street it’s still a clingy toddler hiding it’s face in company. I’ll need to pass some grimy council flats before I’m into the teenage years.
Anyway back to Mike the manager. He was the first recipient of my newly added question about Essex Road businesses interacting with each other and I’m really glad he was. He totally opened up and started chatting about all the different groups of people that came in. The girls from the massage place, (aromatherapy rather than happy ending) the team from Barrio North and the estate agent. He also mentioned something that perked me up for the rest of the day. He said the guys from The Diner came in sometimes and they would often help each other out if they were running low on something. I’ve worked in restaurants and done the same but I really loved the idea of two competitive businesses literally next door to each other borrowing milk and lettuce. Reminds you that it’s all about people at the end of the day. Amidst this Essex Road professional love in, he did talk about the fact that he’d never met the guys from Wenlock and Essex, a new bar across the road and suggested that they weren’t very friendly. This intrigued me, partly because I think Wenlock and Essex will actually be the very last businesses I visit. Also it suggested that they’re perceived as outsiders. I certainly expected to find people using other businesses nearby but definitely didn’t expect to find a sense of community strong enough to both include and exclude people.
Filing this thought away for another time, I finished my questions, thanked Mike and got the bill. One thing I didn’t do was take a photo of my coffee. Being a purist I can’t go back and buy another one. (totally considered it) so I’ll have to notch it down as a rules failure. I’m considering setting a charity fine for doing that to make me more compliant. I did that on the living by the rules project and it cost me a painful £500. Worked pretty well though.
Before I left I had one last thought. How would the timing of my visit affect things. I went into Giraffe on the way to work. A bit stressy and with my usual morning boost of adrenaline from a fast walk and office fear. I’ll make the next visit on a weekend considerably more relaxed. I guess as long as I record it there’s some means of providing a control.
- Business has been there since – 2001
- Guaranteed cumulative years in business – 10
- Previous business was – nobody knew
- 17 people work there
- Interviewee arrives there by tube or bus to Angel
- I bought a Cappucino for £3 and tipped £1
- Cumulative spend – £10.00