David Hicks

Adventures in Time, Space & New Dimensions

David Hicks
Adventures in Time, Space & New Dimensions

On a recent trip to Cardiff to take my son, a self proclaimed Dr Who geek to the Dr Who Experience, I discovered Coffi & Co, who are not a normal coffee shop chain.

Opening cafes in normal retail spaces just doesn’t do it for them, because it’s just too easy, uninteresting and frankly dull as hell for staff, customers and their brand. I went in to find out more.

Image - http://www.isospaces.co.uk/

Image - http://www.isospaces.co.uk/

In 2015, Coffi & Co, decided to do something very ambitious to take advantage of a tricky brown-field space that had a load of building restrictions but massive commercial opportunity. Located in Cardiff bay, the space was on the road leading to the famous Dr Who Experience, meaning the potential footfall the café might benefit from was huge.

However, the use of the space on the site was severely restricted by planning permission, building regulations, the tiny the physical footprint of the site and also a ridiculously small build budget.

Just to make things even more difficult for themselves, this tiny coffee business with big ambitions decided that it needed to open the new café in just a few months to take advantage of peak visitor numbers to the Dr Who Experience in April – not even enough time to get planning permission, they were told.

Undeterred, the staff at Coffi&Co asked themselves how they could meet this self imposed challenge head on, whilst keeping to the budget and very fast timescales they’d set, both for very good commercial reasons.

Because of the small traditional surrounding buildings, that were also listed, the new Coffi&Co couldn’t exceed the height of the roof pitches of the old buildings. All the builders that they talked to confirmed that a building specification was impossible to construct without the huge costs of ‘digging down’ to gain height. It would take months to do and the cost would be prohibitive, if it ever passed planning.

Deciding to approach the problem from a completely different angle (and fuelled by some very strong Rawandan caffeiene), the team at Coffi thought about their challenge in a very different way. How could they build a café in a matter of weeks that complied to the site restrictions and met their frankly ridiculously small budget? Were they crazy?

It was then someone in the team suggested they could if they built a Lego café. They could if the café was ready-made blocks, that simply clicked into place quickly and that could be expanded by simply clicking another block onto the existing structure, when needed.

Thinking in this new way led Coffi&Co to a company who could provide this very service. A company who’s whole business model relied on them dealing with clients’ unrealistic limitations and constraints – and doing it fast, very fast indeed. That company is Isospaces.

IsoSpaces specialise in modifying shipping containers in new and very creative ways to provide ‘accommodation’ in many different forms, all at high speed, on a low budget and yet to a high standard.

Shipping containers as a café was the answer Coffi&Co needed.

In 2015 Coffi&Co worked with IsoSpaces to have a café planned, designed and delivered to site in a matter of weeks. It sailed through planning permission helped in no small part by the fact that shipping containers were in keeping with the maritime heritage of Cardiff Bay.

Image-  http://www.isospaces.co.uk/

Image-  http://www.isospaces.co.uk/

In 2016, based on the huge success of the original café, Coffi&Co again worked with Isospaces to extend the café fast by ‘clicking in’ 2 more converted containers, providing a full customer seating area and extended ‘take out’ servery.

The full story can be found here: http://www.isospaces.co.uk/coffi-cos-expansion-01.html

It has been such a successful collaboration, that several new sights for the shipping container café solution have been identified and work is underway. Interestingly, your first reaction when entering the café in Cardiff Bay was ‘Wow, it’s just like the Tardis’.