An Insight into: Rock Men’s Salon and Wired Co.

John Padalino runs not one but two local businesses – and they are next door to each other. Rock Men’s Salon and Wired Coffee on Broadhurst Gardens. If you don’t know them already, they are a couple of the ‘hipper’ businesses here, but with a mix of typical West Hampstead customers.

What brought you West Hampstead?

The C11 bus from Brent Cross.

It was literally by accident. I had moved up to London from Devon, and was searching for a while for somewhere to set up a men’s salon. I trained at my dad’s salon in Devon, which has just celebrated it’s 55th anniversary. I ran it for a while but the pull of London was too strong.

Back in 2010 I was shopping in Brent Cross, and I randomly got on a bus to explore. The bus was a C11, and I got off at this place that had a nice vibe and looked interesting; West End Green. I wandered down West End Lane and at the bottom saw a salon called Matrix, which was empty in a parade of shops opposite the tube station. I thought that it was a pretty good site next to three stations.

Then I went in to Café Bon next door and checked online for leases available in West Hampstead. The first lease that came up was … Matrix!

I immediately called Network Rail, which was  offering a three-year lease with a six-month break clause. I could see there was the potential for redevelopment but the other local shopkeepers said there had been talk of it for 15 years and nothing had happened. So I took the risk and signed the lease.

What happened next?

Business got off to a good start but just three months later a letter arrived giving me my notice! West Hampstead Square was going to be built and our little parade of shops was going to be knocked down. It was pretty stressful having only just got the business off the ground but one of my clients, a surveyor, said, “Face it, London is evolving, it’s going to change, don’t fight it.”

By the time we moved, 18 months later, I had already found a new place round the corner for rock, in what had been the Millennium café. However, my old place was going to be empty for three months so I negotiated with Network Rail to open a pop-up coffee shop there.

John sitting between Rock and a Wired place

John sitting between Rock and a Wired place

What’s your fondest memory of the area?

Getting up at 5.30am and opening the door on that pop-up coffee shop. It opened from December 2011 until February 2012. We decided to focus on the coffee – pure and true – so we decided to work with a great roaster. Tom, my business partner’s dad, made all the furniture but you could still tell it had been a barbers; there were still mirrors on the wall.

Tom and I would start off serving coffee in the morning then pop round to Rock to cut hair! From day one people responded really positively and we got so much encouragement. So when the shop next to Rock became available, my landlady asked if wanted to take it on and the pop-up coffee shop suddenly had a permanent home. I was amazed at how things turned around from just two years earlier.

It is not just Tom and his Dad that helped, but our partners too.  It was a team effort.  Likewise now I couldn’t do it without the baristas at Wired and the other stylists at Rock.  I’m proud of them all.  Also, having a very local website like West Hampstead Life really helped too.

Wired Co. - they really know their coffee.

Wired Co. – they really know their coffee.

What has surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

What has surprised me was the nice mix of customers. With the connections to the City and Canary Wharf we have customers who work in the city, but we also have guys who work in TV and sportsmen. From conservative to cutting edge – a nice mix of everyone.

Broadhurst Gardens has changed even since we arrived but the businesses offer something a bit different, from a pizza cooked in a wood burning stove, bespoke chocolates, violins, and great coffee and food in Wired.

The regulars  really encourage us to improve and change; we’ve introduced V60 and aeropress [Ed – new ways of making of coffee]. Currently, we are seeing demand for plant-based foods and are jointly developing those with our food producers.

What’s for lunch?

Normally I have a smoked turkey, avocado and harrissa sandwich and one of our chia pots for dessert. But this month being VEGANuary, I’m going more vegetarian with our carrot, courguette and hommous on rye with a flat white with cashew milk.

If I go out, I like Pham just a couple of doors down, the food is excellent. Or popping in for a drink at the Gallery.

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Evolving, supportive and responsive.

Three gems in West Hampstead’s burgeoning coffee shop culture

Remon sign_ft

“Just imagine how awesome the Jubilee would be if it went to, you know, more exciting places,” said BuzzFeed earlier this year. I’ve been to three independent coffee shops within spitting distance of two local Jubilee Line stations that make the overlooking of West Hampstead even more unforgivable.

On Broadhurst Gardens, just around the corner from West Hampstead station and now helpfully signposted from West End Lane, is Wired Co. Back in 2012, John and Tom took the chance to open a pop-up coffee shop next to Rock Men’s Salon, which John owns, in the parade of shops on West End Lane just before they were all demolished for West Hampstead Square. The local appetite for speciality coffee encouraged them to pursue their vision and fortune smiled upon them as once again they were able to open next door to the relocated Rock on Broadhurst.

Today Wired has a strong local customer base and a big vision to introduce more and more people to the delights of speciality coffee. I dragged a friend to Wired when it first opened and his reaction: “You don’t realise how bad your regular coffee is until you have a cup like this”. This is exactly what John and Tom love to hear. Their mantra is “educate, not patronise” and they’ve certainly worked hard to de-mystify great coffee. A large board in the shop details the origins and flavours of the beans on offer whilst avoiding jargon.

Wired board

The beans, from Climpson & Sons, are kept to a house blend, a guest bean, perhaps a blend or a single-estate, and a decaf option. The flat white house blend I tried was deliciously smooth and sweet with a medium body. If that sounds like something from a wine bottle, it’s because Wired takes some cues from the Australian wine industry with its simplified labels.

Beyond the coffee, Wired has kept its offerings to a minimum. Its philosophy of “wanting to get things right before we start shouting about it” means that those looking for lunch will be disappointed – but that’s due to change soon. Breakfast, however, is on the menu, as are delicious cakes from Babycakes – home-baked in Kensal Green and also sold at West Hampstead Farmers’ Market. Now that summer’s on the horizon, look out for the iced lattes too – they went down a storm last year.

Wired's coffee menu

Wired’s coffee menu

One stop along our beloved Jubilee Line, convenient for Finchley Road commuters, is Loft Coffee. Back in 2012 owner SungJae had a large estate agents – Elvis Homes – and an even larger passion for great coffee. He combined the two by creating a coffee shop from part of his business space, which he opened up with the help of Monmouth, the Bermondsey-based coffee roasters who supply Loft with beans and helped to train SungJae and his staff in the art of the perfect cup.

Like Wired, Loft has kept things simple and offers Monmouth’s regular blend, supplemented from time-to-time with guest single-origin espresso from Workshop Coffee. The flat white I drank was beautifully presented and packed full of smooth almond and chocolate flavours – and all the more enjoyable for being beautifully presented in a proper cup. The same Monmouth beans made for an espresso that friend Ben thought was the best he’d ever had. Loft is firmly on the ground floor but the space is pretty small, although there are some seats for non-commuters.

Small space, big ambition

Small space, lofty ambition

Loft’s menu might be limited by space, but it’s clear that thought has gone in to selecting what is on offer. For non-coffee drinkers there are teas from teapigs, soft drinks from Fritz and juices from James White. A recent adition to the menu are cupcakes from Primrose Hill based Sweet Things. A salted caramel cupcake got a huge thumbs-up from Christine. SungJae is clear though that his number one aim is to serve quality coffee. And number two? For the neighbourhood to get in to drinking it!

Coffee at Loft

Coffee at Loft

On the other side of the Underground tracks, just around the corner on Finchley Road, is Remon – the most recent addition to the local coffee scene. Owner Uri Remon has lived been in NW London for years and started out by selling coffee at Camden Lock. He opened his eponymous cafe last November with a big vision: the best coffee in London. When I dropped in, Uri’s passion and drive was evident in abundance and we soon got down to tasting eight different beans from his supplier, Smiths. Uri is developing his own house blend with the help of feedback from customers and hopes ultimately to offer around six blends or single-estate coffees at any point.

Remon coffee machine

Remon is the largest of the three coffee shops. Some of the space is filled with a large 1970s belt-run gyro coffee grinder which Uri imported from Denmark and restored. If you buy beans to take home (which all three coffee shops offer) you can have them ground in this imposing machine ready for your coffee machine or French press. Remon’s dedication to choice is seen throughout the rest of the shop. A wall-full of bags and leaves awaits the tea drinker and if you’ve come to eat there’s a range of delicacies, sweet and savoury, from Italian bakery Vitos. The pizzas are spoken highly of and I can vouch that the cannoli – both kinds! – are top notch.

Remon coffee

All three coffee shops are ideally placed for commuters, but if you’re looking for a coffee or something sweet in the evening then Remon is your best bet as it stays open to 9pm. Uri hopes to put the cafe to further evening use for community-based arts events.

For those seeking decent coffee slightly further afield, the good news is that the guys behind Wired have recently opened Cable Co opposite Kensal Rise station and Uri hopes to expand Remon to additional shops – perhaps even one with space for in-house roasting.

Loft and Wired Co are in The London Coffee Guide 2014.

One Show visits Wired

Turn on BBC1 tonight for early evening magazine programme The One Show to see West End Lane’s very own Wired make an appearance.

A One Show researcher contacted me yesterday trying to track down a number for Wired (hint: you need a website guys!), and the crew and a reporter turned up this morning at 9 o’clock to chat to co-owner Tom about whether the recent adverse publicity surrounding Starbucks has had any impact on business.

Watch (or iPlayer) the show from 7pm tonight to find out what Tom had to say about independent coffee shops.

Photo via @cyberdonkey
Photo via @cyberdonkey