Don’t make the mistake of turning away at the locked door and buzzer- beyond
lies a first of its kind friendly cafe-cum-social space that hopes to revolutionise the way we enjoy our afternoon cuppa.
I’ll admit it, I blinked for so long when I was trying to find Ziferblat for the first time that I almost missed it. But keep your eyes open when you’re on the corner of Old Street and Shoreditch High Street and you’ll find it nestled neatly between a bar and tattoo parlour. But, with so many cafes in London that you sometimes feel like you can see nothing else, why choose one which allows entry by buzzer only?
Ziferblat is a new social experiment straight from the minds of Russian émigrés Ivan Mitin and his partner Tom Kramin. Together, they aim to create an alternative to the Starbucks, Costas-and any old coffee shop for that matter. But how? Well, with an emphasis not so much on refreshments but the social opportunities that often get overlooked in them. Throw in a paying policy that charges per minute rather than per product and a late evening opening and you’ve got a cafe that’s the first of its kind in Britain.
Tom, 32, and Ivan, 29, however, don’t like the term ‘cafe.’
“It’s so much more than that”, explains Tom. “We call it a social space…a big living room where people come and talk face-to-face.
“People come here for a variety of reasons: work, talking, meetings. But the most important thing is the people themselves. We want the people who come here to become our friends in the future.
“The paying per minute is not what its about; it’s about the social experience that we hope people will enjoy. And we make enough money to survive off which is great.”
With a £9 cap per customer, regardless of how long they stay, it’s fair to say that it’s not a big bucks making adventure. And stepping inside Ziferblat reinforces this point. It looks more like someone’s living room than a cafe. With board games and books a plenty, combined with the free wifi, they’re clearly not in a rush to turf anyone out to get more customers through the doors.
In fact, having the serve yourself policy, which means you get to hone your barista skills through their fancy machine, definitely encourages you to treat it as your home. Many clearly already have by the time I get there late morning; helping themselves to the biscuits and coffee and chatting to each other in the process.
This social space-cum-cafe idea is already proving a hit back home in Russia, where 11 are now operating in cities around the country, including the two that the pair own in Kazan. There they’ve become a favourite spot for regular classes, drop-in get togethers and discussions and many an impromptu gig.
Tom said: “We decided to set one up here because it’s a nice challenge for us. London is the most interesting city in the world. We wanted to test how much it works outside of Russia.”
They’ve left the two that they own in the hands of reliable friends that they got to
know through the Ziferblats. They hope that, if successful, they will be able to do the same here as the idea spreads outside of London and people set up their own spaces with the pair’s help.
And what impact do they think Ziferblats could have in the UK, if any? Far from thinking it is just a fad, Tom said that he hopes it will encourage people to reignite a level of communication amongst strangers that perhaps is becoming less common. He said: ” I hope it will make people more community-minded and allow people to create greater bonds between each other.”