Customer Interview: Café Depeche

Humphrey Porter and his team have traded throughout COVID-19. This is their story.

Café Depeche Cork


After spending ten years working for HMV Music stores, Humphrey Porter opened the first Café Depeche in 2003 in Cork, where they were one of just two cafes at the time. From the start, Humphrey’s mission was clear: to be an artisan café selling only high-quality products, many of which unique to them. And of course, he would name the cafe after one of the best bands in the world, playing their music non-stop.

Using Matthew Algie’s Anza blend, Café Depeche became the first café in Ireland to offer flat whites and a range of mochas. They soon expanded around Cork with a number of Cafe Depeche outlets and spin-offs. In 2008 a staff member from New Zealand, Trinette Flawn, brought new ideas from the hugely successful New Zealand Cafe scene. Café Depeche became more specialist and this led to the opening of Mode Chocolate Boutique, which continues to produce high quality patisserie and chocolate for Cafe Depeche today.

Humphrey has managed to keep Café Depeche trading throughout COVID-19. Not only that, he is now nearing the launch of a new food emporium. How has it all been possible?

01.

How have you managed to trade during lockdown? Twelve years ago, we installed open windows next to the counter in one of our cafes after the business was destroyed by flooding. These have proved invaluable in serving coffee safely throughout the pandemic.

This Cafe is also next to the Mercy University hospital in Cork City, which was a specialist COVID-19 Facility and our biggest customer. With the support of Liam Stones and Sean McCormack from Mathew Algie we have had a continuous supply of the products we need.

02.

Where have you been focussing your energy and attention during lockdown? Our main focus was to learn and adapt extremely quickly and safely to new operational standards. We also had to quickly understand customer’s changing needs. We noticed for example that savoury sales slowed but confectionary sales quadrupled.

03. What measures have you put in place to offer a safe take-away service? To minimise multiple handling of all condiments, all customers are asked specifically how they like their coffee. We add the milk, sugar or chocolate dust for them. We also place the lids on the cup, so it is a complete ready-to-drink product. Only one person handles the product before it reaches the customer. This has also become a great way to minimise losses; no more dropped lids and sugars that have to be cleaned and replaced for example. These small expenses all add up over the course of a year.

04. What measures are you considering for safe seated dining? We are considering a number of new approaches, such as moving away from crockery to single use products, even for seated service. The most important measure , however, will be cleaning of surfaces, including chairs. Especially the underneath of chairs that people touch while they are adjusting the seat positioning. We recommend using hospital grade sanitiser and soap. Given our location and high-risk clients from the hospital, this has already enabled both staff and customer to trade with confidence.

05. Are you and your team doing anything creative or innovative to combat the challenges you face? We have invested in ‘recession proof’ equipment and adapted to the new trends. For example, we have introduced a new range of artisan grab-and-go products, making us more of a destination café. We have also focused on excellent customer service and cleanliness.

Most significantly, we have converted one of our cafes into a gourmet food emporium, specifically for take away. We focus on feel-good products; coffee, chocolate, wine & funky pizza’s.

06.

What interesting approaches have you seen from other operators? To be honest I haven’t. Some who have reopened over the last few weeks, have traded recklessly and a number have been shut down by the police.

07. What do you think the outlook is for coffee shops? Short term I see a lot of cafes closing. Those that offer value and an experience will stand the best chance of surviving. Landlords will realise that unrealistic rents are no longer sustainable.

08. What permanent changes do you expect to have to implement in your business model in the medium-long term? Awareness & communications is the most important element right now for any business. The take-away model is definitely a key area of focus. Location will play a major part in success or failure.

09. How has the pandemic changed your own personal outlook on life? To be honest in the last 12 years we have traded through floods, recession and now a pandemic and it’s the same story. You must simply adapt to the situation you are faced with. I am definitely grateful to Emma Heffernan, Dawn Ashman and Erin Porter, the amazing staff who have helped me keep Cafe Depeche open, putting everyone else’s needs before their own.

I remember the first day of Covid 19, when Emma said to me that she wanted to help me trade through, because she saw how stressed and frightened the hospital staff were and how much a cup of coffee meant to them. It is thanks to these staff that I keep going every day (91 days straight) and keep faith that society will rectify its many errors of the past.

Share this article