‘Creative food for creative people’ – it’s a simple philosophy, but one that has worked wonders for Sir Thomas White Loan Charity business loan borrower Graham Crewe, better known to many as Gray.
In 2014, Gray applied for a loan to establish Grays Coffee Shop and Kitchen, having learned of a space available at Leicester’s LCB Depot on Rutland Street, which houses a number of the city’s creative businesses.
Since being successful in his application, Grays Coffee Shop and Kitchen has become recognised as one of Leicester’s ‘hidden gems’, serving delicious, innovate food and award-winning coffee. Initially targeting the businesses within the LCB Depot – customers on his doorstep – Gray’s mission of delivering creative food for creative people has been accomplished, and through word-of-mouth and an ever-changing menu, his reputation continues to grow.
“A lot of credit has to go to Mills, the lad I work with,” explains Gray (right), who boasts one of Leicester’s more eclectic menus.
“He’s the chef that taught me about food. He went down to London, initially to obtain a chemistry degree, but fell back into food and worked in a number of Michelin star places, where he gained a lot of knowledge to add to what he had working in independent restaurants. I’ll run the business side of things, I’ll have my own thoughts, but a lot of the ideas for food come from him.”
Until launching his own business with Mills, Gray had worked as manager of Leicester bar Firebug where he worked to develop the kitchen’s menu. Following a conversation, the two decided to go into business together and were presented with an opportunity when caterers were invited to tender for space available at LCB Depot.
“I’d wanted to make it as a musician, but when I turned 30 I became very reflective,” smiles Gray. “I got the phone call asking if I wanted to set up my own business and I said ‘yeah, let’s give it a shot’. Our front-of-house manager, Al, was working at The Exchange bar across the road from LCB Depot, and let us know that this (café space) was up for tender and suggested we go for it.
“It was terrible before we arrived. The food they were serving was just frozen stuff, there was no vibe – it was like a morgue! We felt that we could really do something with it and we beat five other people to win the tender. Two-and-a-half years later, we’re here and life is very different!”
Just as it has since propelled Grays Coffee Shop and Kitchen to a new level, word of mouth was also key to the business getting up and running, as it was through a friend that Gray found out about the Sir Thomas White Loan Charity.
“A mate of mine set up a hair salon, and I was talking to him about our business ideas and he told me I should speak to the Sir Thomas White Loan Charity. The application process provided its own challenges, but when you’re talking about getting an interest-free loan to help start your business, it’s absolutely worth it. The process was actually really helpful, and we had decent support along the way from the Trustees who have made contact and pop in every year to see how things are going. They genuinely care about what you’re trying to do and are all lovely people.
“We used the loan just to help get the business up and running,” Gray continues.
“It was to help with things like equipment, marketing and even just a bit of cash to support us at the start, because we didn’t know how things were going to go in the early days. When we took over, we had a sit-in audience, which helped. We came into a place where people weren’t happy with the café, so our foresight was to only promote locally and keep things in house, hoping to grow organically – and to be honest, we’ve never really spent big on marketing. It’s all been word of mouth and it’s only now, as we take on more staff, that we’re thinking that we have to up our game a bit more.
“Our aim is to deliver creative food for creative people and hopefully word of mouth will ensure things grow. We’ve tapped into the Cultural Quarter now and we’re starting to get more members of the public coming in. I don’t think there’s anybody like us in Leicester.”
It’s understandable to see why Gray would make such a claim. Asked to highlight some of the more elaborate offerings on his menu from the past, Gray replies with pig head kromeski with rhubarb ketchup, Beetroot curry served with spiked cottage cheese, and creole brined chicken with succotash and parmesan grits.
“I remember the interview really well,” says Gray, recalling his interview with the Sir Thomas White Loan Charity. “I went into this room and there was an oval table. I admit that it was bit scary, but when you know everything about your business inside out, there’s no reason to be. If you’re confident in what you’re doing, you should find the interview a breeze. Towards the end, I could feel excitement from the Trustees too.
“If you have a great business idea and what to make it happen, then get in touch with the Sir Thomas White Loan Charity. I can’t stress that enough, get in touch with them. If you wanting to go into business for yourself, you only have to answer to yourself – it’s so rewarding – and if you’re confident enough in your business plan, then you’ll do well.”
Grays Coffee Shop and Kitchen is located at LCB Depot, 31 Rutland Street in Leicester city centre, near Curve Theatre.
-Photos courtesy of Grays and Creative by Wren.
For more information about the Sir Thomas White Loan Charity’s business loans, please CLICK HERE