When he was young, Nigel Cottle had his sights set on becoming a fighter pilot or a Formula 1 driver – something exciting, dangerous and fast. Instead, he settled on managing Crave Café, owned by a local collective. Fast and exciting, but perhaps not quite as dangerous.
Crave Café exists to make the neighbourhood a better place – a core part of Cottle’s role is to connect with the people and businesses that make up Morningside. “Our focus is Morningside,” he said. “We’re not interested in franchising; we want to concentrate all of our success here. The neighbourhood being good is the end goal.” Hospitality and being hospitable is a key part of Cottle’s life, and he sees being involved in a hospitality business as an extension of that.
Crave Café started out with just 20 seats, a number which tripled over five years. When the co-op decided it was time to move into a larger premises, that number tripled again. “I’ve learnt more in the last nine months since moving the cafe than I have in the five years before that,” Cottle admitted. “Getting my head around making a large cafe work requires a whole different skill set and new ways of thinking than I had to have previously.”
All of Crave’s profits are put back into the neighbourhood, but is still needs to make a profit. “We’ve definitely learnt that you can be busy and not be profitable,” he explained. “It’s been a journey for us to find efficiency while being profitable. While profit isn’t a driver for us, it’s still important.”
More than just a café, Crave runs community events throughout the year. There are the ever-popular Soup N’ Settlers nights throughout winter, when the neighbourhood is invited to come in for free soup and board games, as well as the twice-yearly Street Party and cooking classes with the Kingsland Cooking Club. These events are popular, but Cottle is always looking for ways to make the neighbourhood better. The good news is, it appears to be working.
“We heard a comment recently that someone would say that they live in Kingsland because it sounded better,” said Cottle. “Now they’re proud to say they live in Morningside. They’ve pinpointed us as the catalyst for that.”
“The most rewarding thing is the sense that we’ve been on this journey for seven years now and yet we’re still advancing in making a difference – making the neighbourhood better.”