When my sister, my husband and I were thinking about launching Lantana Cafe, I would collect brunch menus and hide them under my children’s pram mattresses. We wanted to recreate the Australian cafe culture of our childhoods in our new London home. Lantana is the name of an independent film that Australians know well and the flower is all over the landscape.
We started the process like a creative brief: what would you do to create a place, an environment and an offering that was a real reflection of the creative community that celebrated coffee and great food? We talked about something "traditional with a twist". We never wanted to serve tinned baked beans so made our own slow-cooked baked beans. When we first opened, our British friends would say: "Why don’t you just open a tin?"
When looking for sites, we were almost ready to give up because it was too difficult, and then this place [the Fitzrovia branch] came up. It was an old Italian restaurant and the owner was ready to retire so we approached him and thought: "This is our last stab at it, let’s do it."
At that stage, it was the beginning of social media so I put up a poster in the front window saying: "Reason to get up in the morning coming soon, follow our blog scrambling eggs." That was a really early way of thinking about building an audience for a business, which now we’ve started to take for granted.
Russell Davies, who was a planner at Saatchi & Saatchi at the time, walked past one day, saw the poster and wrote about it on his blog. He had this huge online following so, all of a sudden, I got this advertising following really early on.
I started a Facebook group called "I miss Australian coffee". It got people talking about what they missed most about the cafe culture. Corn fritters, which are famous in Australian cafes, were one of the top things.
When we opened in 2008 we found all the food bloggers, who were mainly accountants by day, and invited them in. It was a very grassroots approach. The real tipping point was when Time Out named us London’s Best Cafe of the Year. Ever since then there have been queues out the door.
When we started to expand, we deliberately followed our advertising communities. So we opened in Shoreditch in 2012 and in London Bridge two years later.
Until that point, we had set up the business using our own funds. Rather than go to a bank, I wrote a Post-it note and put it on the coffee machines. It said: "If you love the experience here and want to be part of the expansion, ring this number." We had calls from people who loved us and wanted to invest. Our investors are still those same people.
Next, we’re looking at subscription-based breakfast boxes that can be sent into businesses and, of course, maybe opening more cafes.
Caitlin Ryan is a co-founder of Lantana Cafe and regional creative director, EMEA, Facebook and Instagram