Meet Gary (left), the man behind the cult - the man behind Cult Espresso. We learn where the name comes from, his thoughts on breakfast and about his evolution from 'jobless bum' to speciality coffee shop owner - I just wish we knew about his weekly Edinburgh speciality coffee Dungeons and Dragons expeditions before this interview happened. Though I'm not sure where that conversation may then have led.....
So basically I got through a year of college but never actually got into the next course. What happened from there was actually a pretty good time - I was a jobless bum for half a year. But you get bored eventually so what happened was that I saw a local shop up for rent and I had a little bit of money put aside. It was just a tiny little space at the train station and I basically just decided one day that I’ll do it. So I opened up there, at Dalmeny train station just outside of Edinburgh near South Queensferry.
So I did that for three or four years before opening Cult, it was okay for the teenage Gary - it made me some money and I got to sit around and play around with coffee while eating tons of food that I had in stock. Somewhere in there as well I learnt speciality coffee.
I think what pushed us to open up here was the original space was outside all the time. Four years of winter basically, I just wanted a place with a front door so I could be warm - that’s how we ended up here.
Because cults have rituals and I would definitely say that coffee is quite meticulous and in need of rituals. When making a pour over or making an espresso, people can get really cult-like into it, some people can be pretty fierce about certain arguments. Some people take it really seriously.
Once you’ve done coffee for eight years or so it’s sometimes nice to diversify a little. Food has just been kind of a fun side thing going on for us - it’s also worked really well for us. I think we get people coming in brunching in the morning and on the weekends but I don’t really know how we ended up on this path. I just thought: we do good coffee so why don’t we do good food? Why don’t we try to just apply the same principals to food?
I take a lot of inspiration from the Australian style cafes, they have some really amazing chefs working for them. It seems a logical next step for me - good food, good coffee.
It’s hard to survive on just coffee, you hear all these things like ‘oh but you make 1000% on coffee’ but you can’t sell enough £2.60 cups of coffee to make it worth your while.
It’s pretty important - if you don’t have that a lot of the time you don’t draw people in. I think it also keeps people coming back as well as good people with that good product.
At the end of the day I really think it’s all about your interactions with people. The people that are in the shop, I think they’re pretty important - they would be my number one. We try to take the time to really speak to a lot of people and make it a lot more community feeling. I really enjoy that.
if you go on holiday and find these similar smaller shops, those speciality sorts of places. You can always be like ‘oh hey man, I’m here for a few days - I’ve heard about this place but would you give me any recommendations?’ Those are the kinds of people that will then help you find all these other amazing places.
The product is a really good draw but you tend to find really good communities around good product. Bars, food, restaurants, coffee shops - they all just lead you to other good venues.
There was a big explosion of coffee shops about 4 years ago and thats where a lot of the good ones have come from. I think it’s a difficult one to get into, you see shops opening but it’s sometimes just people with a lot of money thinking they can give it a go. Then they realise that coffee shops are not that profitable, they take a lot of work and if you’re not there yourself things can really go array. These places quite often shut very quickly.
It’s certainly a different mindset from the people 4 years ago who thought specialty coffee was fucking awesome and if they make a lot of money out of it, great, but if it just ticks over that’s also cool. I definitely think that was the approach of a lot of people when it was a relatively new thing. It’s changed a little now, it’s kind of interesting to see these new places that have opened up that have turned slowly more into businessmen.
It just takes a certain dedication that not a lot of people have.
Front doors are great.
I just really enjoy the people I work with, Drew used to work with me in the place in Dalmeny but I knew him from high school - we’ve known each other basically since childhood. Neil used to work at our rival coffee shop Filament way back - we say rival but really it’s just friendly banter between the two shops. He went off travelling through Canada and when he came back he was like ‘please please give me a job.’