A Piaggio, A Macchiato

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Haggerston Station is 50 metres from my apartment and is one of the reasons I love where I live. In the dark winter months, the outdoor commute is contained to just that little stretch from station to doorstep. The mornings are a swirl of people heading to the overground station with their grim, morning #bringit faces.

There’s a tiny, three wheeled Piaggio tempo at the station entrance. It has a few streamers, some music, a tray full of croissants and muffins, and a coffee machine in the back. I didn’t want to like it. Mumbai can really suck the joy out of loving anything with three wheels. Nothing with a motor and a triad of tiny wheels can evoke a positive emotion from me because the autorickshaws in Mumbai have gone out of their way to make me viscerally loathe them. But this little Piaggio tempo wasn’t coming at me from a corner of a street at the speed of light, neither was it leaving me stranded in the rain just because it felt like it. After a week of trying not to pay too much attention to it, I went and got myself a coffee. Then a few days later, another one, until it somewhat turned into a habit.

Olivia Abbatt works with clockwork precision. Macchiatos, cappuccinos, espressos and americanos make their way to people waiting politely in a scattered fashion so as not to get in other people’s way. Olivia, who’s been running this mobile coffee house since October 2014, had never thought that she would run a business someday. make; coffee unfolded when a series of ideas tumbled around her (and each other).

Along with make;coffee came the distinct distant familiarity where you know people yet maintain boundaries. It alludes to a village/hamlet life.

Olivia grew up in a small town in England near Northampton. The population of the hamlet was about 60 people, and she grew up with a deep sense of community and familiarity. She wanted to be a writer, but at the age of 18 she diagnosed with a rare ovarian cancer that became the focus of her life for the next few years. When she started to get better, she got jobs that kept her busy during the day. Her evenings were spent writing.

This carried on for a while, but every time Olivia had a relapse or needed to take time off for her health her life would come to a standstill. She wasn’t happy and gave up the desk job where she spent her time watching the clock. She wanted to start something on her own.

But Olivia didn’t know where to begin or what to do. She liked food and loved to cook, so the idea of a pop up restaurant seemed great. It wouldn’t be a colossal commitment and yet would be a foot in the door in the food business. Olivia started to attend enterprise events organized by Startup Britain and Ideastap and over time brewed the idea of running a mobile coffee house. The benefits were many. She’d be her own boss, have low overheads, could source coffee locally and could stop working by noon or 2 p.m. when traffic was minimal.

It was a perfect idea that she managed to execute in a year. To start operation as early as October was a sign that Olivia loved her idea and couldn’t wait to begin; it also meant a hot cuppa Joe for 6 a.m. commuters, which is the stuff that dreams are made of. I’m being exceedingly polite when I say that London winters are not fun.

Olivia missed the feeling of community she grew up with, but that came back when she kick-started her enterprise. Along with make;coffee came the distinct distant familiarity where you know people yet maintain boundaries. It alludes to a village/hamlet life.

Olivia eventually wants to expand her small business within the community and is even considering involving other people. She wants to make the space she’s working from more relevant and garner a substantial network within the neighbourhood to build an integrated local business.

With her Piaggio tempo and personal brand of spreading cheer, Olivia has brought a sense of community to an otherwise vanilla station entrance. It’s going to be interesting to watch her orchestrate her plans for expansion and build a village – albeit figuratively – from scratch.

make;coffee, Haggerston Station, London, E8 4DR

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