Urbanity Coffee, on Coke Lane in Smithfield, is only a relatively new café at 18 months old but this week already sees more plans for diversifying, with an evening menu extending business times well into the evening.
The bright glass premises has a warmth to it that has attracted business from the area and even boasts an impressive Probat coffee roaster in the corner, proving to customers that their beans are, in fact, roasted on site.
Owner Jason Mac an Tsionnaigh, who has worked in the industry for years, is as enthusiastic about food as he is coffee. The development of Urbanity from a coffee shop and café to the extension of the opening hours to create a relaxed dining experience, with wine and creative dishes, is indicative of this enthusiasm.
Although initially focused on the quality of beans and their roasting, the production of high standard and organic complementary products has been a massive focus of the business in recent months. Jason strives for excellence in every aspect of the business, which is controlled from the café itself, from the roasting of the coffee beans to baking cakes, making sauces and curing meats and salmon in the extensive behind the scenes kitchen, as they “Didn’t want to be buying in other people’s food”.
The customer side of the business is most certainly food focused with a breakfast menu, lunch two specials, brisket and pastrami and many other interesting dishes on offer. Jason is trusting and supportive of his employees, stating that “We have a very strong team who are all very creative and imaginative. I like to give them autonomy when it comes to the food.” As the business has a lot of regulars, they change the menu monthly to ensure variety and prevent people from becoming bored, which is clearly helped by having an innovative team of 17 people.
The move to extended opening hours has been a large task for Jason: “It’s a completely different offering and we need more fridges and more stock”. When Urbanity was initially designed it was expected to be an all day casual dining venue. Urbanity will now open from Wednesday to Friday in the evening, with last orders to the kitchen at 9pm. The menu will include small plates such as fried olives in batter and polenta fries, as well as larger plates for sharing such as pickled mackerel and cardamom smoked short ribs – unusual but “Tasty whole attractive” offerings, as Jason puts it. There will also be six red and six white wines available.
“I had always been interested in coffee since the age of 18. I always found it very difficult to find beans in Ireland,” Jason explained. “I couldn’t find something that I wanted so I decided to create it for myself.” The business generally buys in six or seven different types of coffee beans by the tonne every six weeks, with around three on offer at a time to customers. It is “Expensive and a big investment,” according to Jason.
Urbanity uses Nordic Approach, a direct trade company, with no coffee merchants, to source the majority of their beans, which are scored over 87 on the coffee grading system and are sourced in an even more ethical way than fair trade beans. Most of their Arabica beans come from central and south America and east Africa and are beans that do not grow anywhere else in the world. Recently, Urbanity has also started to source beans from Sendero Coffee in London, which is focused on organic beans with likewise packaging.
The coffee industry has made massive strides in the last five years, estimated at grossing over £9bn last year alone - the variety of high end coffees available to the public has created a competitive market for coffee entrepreneurs. Jason does not feel threatened by larger chains, particularly those nearby in the Dublin 7 area, as he feels that they provide a completely different product to Urbanity.
Essentially, he feels that they are not really in competition with each other: “It’s a completely different offering. I think they have their place. It is familiarity. It doesn’t have any impact on my business.” His outlook on the coffee industry is very positive: “It’s really exciting that you can pretty much go anywhere in Dublin and be guaranteed a really great coffee – Dublin is now a coffee destination”. Competition, he believes, makes you try harder and encourages businesses to keep looking forward.
Word of mouth has been a major factor in the success of Urbanity, with regulars comprising a large amount of their revenue. According to Jason the business relies more on this than social media as they are not as present as they could be online, stating that “Nobody here has a qualification in marketing”.
Coke Lane is slightly hidden away in the popular Smithfield area and there is a need to increase footfall on the street and into the café. The area has most certainly the potential to attract a wide variety of people to the café and Jason is aware that the building of their base has been slow but steady. The business was also surprised by the demographic of their consumers in the area - Jason expected their customer base to be younger when, in fact, many of their customers come from legal businesses and organisations in the area.
Expansion plans do not stop with the extended opening hours and dinner menu, as Jason indicated that there are plans to open another café on the opposite side of the river in the Dublin 8 area. This café, he believes, will be less hidden away, on a more open thoroughfare and will attract new custom in from the street and build the business in a more organic fashion.
For more information on Urbanity Coffee, visit their website.