Couch Coffee and Stuff – Review of a Sheffield independent
Originally hailing from Oxfordshire, Sheffield Unchained contributor Emma Wells came to Sheffield in 2001 as a student, and liked it so much she decided to settle here. She is passionate about the city, its unique identity, and the great quality of life it offers. Emma is a keen outdoorsy type, and can regularly be found tramping up hills in the Peak District, or out running closer to home. Eating is another important hobby for Emma, and she is working her way round as many of Sheffield’s fantastic restaurants and cafés as possible.
After tasting their Couch breakfast, Emma took the opportunity to meet with the owner of independent Sheffield business, Couch Coffee and Stuff and to find out the secret to a good cup of coffee.
I arrive at the Campo Lane branch of Couch Coffee and Stuff to meet co-owner, Mikey Hulmes, on a Wednesday lunchtime. He’s on his way over from Ecclesall Road, and the cheery staff offer me a drink and invite me to take a seat whilst I wait. This in itself is a challenge, the place is packed with a variety of customers, from parents and children to business people with laptops. I find a seat at a low table which I share with two ladies meeting for coffee.
My first impression of Couch is a good one, it feels busy but still relaxed, there’s a buzz of conversation but no-one needs to shout over it. Coldplay add to the laid back vibe, audible but not intrusive.
I have ordered an Americano, which arrives in a black cup and saucer with a small glass milk bottle for me to add my own. It seems attention to detail is definitely part of the ethos here.
‘Doing coffee better’
I don’t have to wait long for Mikey to arrive, and he’s happy to tell me how the idea for Couch came about. Mikey, now 35, came to Sheffield as a student, and as so many do, made his home here. He was working at Subway when the idea for Couch started to form during a conversation with a colleague:
We were talking about how coffee is taking off but no-one seems to have done a good job with it.
Finding chain coffee shops lacking, whether it be in standards of cleanliness or a feeling of being hurried, Mikey and his colleague decided there was a niche to ‘do coffee better’; on an independent level but still with corporate values. For Couch, this means a modern décor, great service, and an assurance that high quality products will be found at both the Campo Lane and Ecclesall Road branches.
Couch is about more than just good coffee though. There is a tempting array of food, with a menu including hearty-sounding sandwiches, assorted types of urban ploughman’s and a selection of tapas dishes. There is also a good selection of dishes for children and not a nugget in sight. Having visited on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I can personally recommend the Couch breakfast, which looked and tasted delicious.
Mikey tells me about the team behind Couch, explaining that his role is in developing the brand, whilst his business partner, Martyn Fewster, is the manager of both branches. Martyn, 38, has experience in running this kind of business, which complements Mikey’s ideas on how to take the Couch concept forward. The staff who work in both branches have been chosen carefully, based largely on their positive attitudes to customer service. Mikey Explains:
Anyone can learn how to make a decent coffee, but you can’t teach people how to smile.
A continental feel
Although the Campo Lane Couch opened first, Mikey and Martyn had been planning to open on Ecclesall Road, but faced several challenges in making that happen. They struggled to get planning permission to change the use of the premises from a furniture shop to a food and drink establishment, and had to convince the Council that the coloured balustrading to the frontage of Couch would be acceptable, although it was initially deemed not to be in keeping with Ecclesall Road.
The plan for Couch did not originally include serving alcohol, but Mikey and Martyn realised it could work on Ecclesall Road, and envisaged tables outside in the sun where people could have a couple of beers. However, the emphasis is definitely on quality over quantity. As Mikey tells me:
That’s the way the pub industry is changing, people don’t want to go out and have 10 pints any more.
In fact, the idea is that Couch has a continental feel, ‘where someone has a glass of wine and someone has a coffee’. Ecclesall Road is only licensed until 10.30pm, Mikey says:
We are really going to try and respect our neighbours, we understand that loud noise and rowdy punters aren’t going to make their standard of living any better and we don’t want that either.
The Couch brand is still developing, and Mikey tells me one option is for Campo Lane to become more of a full-blown restaurant, which could involve a name change from ‘Couch Coffee and Stuff’ to reflect a slightly different identity. There is also the possibility of smaller Couches, with a focus on coffee, cake and sandwiches.
Big brands should be wary
Mikey is positive about the independent scene in Sheffield:
The independent scene is great, it’s really creative, you can go on Twitter and look at what people are doing all the time and people are so imaginative.
His view is that the big brands need to be wary in Sheffield because the competition from independents is strong. Places like Steam Yard, Marmaduke’s, and Tamper Coffee in the city centre, and the variety of coffee shops on Abbeydale Road, have loyal followings and are all doing well. Their success is partly due to the fact that they all have distinct identities and have found their own niches.
Part of Couch’s identity is the hosting of regular events, such as coffee and wine tasting evenings, and recently, a charity night with the Women’s Institute from Kelham Island. Campo Lane also hosts monthly art nights, at which they will introduce a new artist. The current resident artist is Goo Design, who specialises in digital art, and a selection of his work is on display.
To conclude, I ask Mikey what the secret is to a good cup of coffee:
Having well-trained staff that really care about the quality of the coffee, and having a really good bean. The staff are proud of their work, they look after the beans, and are always trying to improve their latte art.
It is clear that the success of Couch and the ongoing development of the brand will be a real team effort.