In conversation with JP Then of Crosstown Doughnuts
We catch up with JP Then, Urban Adventurer and Co-founder of the delicious and regular feature on our boardroom table, Crosstown Doughnuts.
Where did the idea for Crosstown come from?
The idea for Crosstown stemmed from my interests in specialty coffee and general antipodean coffee culture. There is a lot that happened to summarise how I got to the starting line for the Crosstown journey – but the short of it is, there is no better pairing than a handmade fresh sourdough doughnut and decent coffee. When you figure that out, you have to make it happen!
Tell us about a memorable turning point in the business?
Opening the first shop on Broadwick St, Soho was a turning point – it solidified so many aspects of the business and gave us a platform to really connect with customers. It also allowed us to really demonstrate what the Crosstown experience was all about. It’s a tiny shop – but spoke volumes at the time.
What’s been your greatest mistake and what did it teach you?
Looking at it with a Crosstown focus – luckily there hasn’t been any massive howlers that have caused the business to derail (touch wood!). In many respects, the greatest mistake has been a key learning – gaining the confidence to trust my instinct and gut. When it does or doesn’t feel right, it’s for a reason – and you have to act on it. You have to have the confidence to follow through on that feeling which is not always easy or even logical. For someone who sees themselves as a very logical individual, this was/is difficult and I have certainly made the wrong call at times against my better instinct.
Learn to trust your gut! (and feed it Crosstown when it’s growling)
What’s been the biggest change in the industry since Crosstown Doughnuts launched?
There are so many macro and micro factors it’s hard to single anything out. We are definitely in interesting times with many F&B feeling the pressure – I would say I can speak on behalf of all operators in saying it is simply harder to make things work. You have to get very comfortable with change, and the fact that your business will more often than not, feel uncomfortable trying to deal with that change.
Brexit really has (obviously) shaken things up, causing volatility in suppliers and their pricing. We have seen wild swings in the cost of some core goods over short periods of time – you can’t forecast or plan for it. We also import a lot of our ingredients meaning we are exposed to exchange rate volatility – i.e. our vanilla bean comes all the way from Tonga, our chocolate California, our cinnamon Sri Lanka. These are high quality expensive inputs and the costs are only heading up.
The labour market in London is really tight. We haven’t stopped growing since day dot, meaning we haven’t ever stopped recruiting, but the pool of good available talent seems to be shrinking. Everyone is trying to hold on to their best staff – why wouldn’t you!
I could start to write about rent, business rates and other cost pressures, but I’m starting to sound like a downbeat economic journalist and that’s not my point! – in a nutshell, many factors of ‘doing business’ has changed dramatically in the four years since we started, and, it’s not all gloom!
I’m upbeat about what relevant tech brings to our sector – and it’s changed the way we look at retail sites. It’s not just about passing foot traffic anymore, it’s about delivery radius’s and access to local markets. How can we utilise our shops as hubs to local areas? What new options does this give us? There are some significant changes to the retail landscape driven by our customers, and I’m excited about it as I like many aspects of the innovation. You read a lot about the ‘future of retail’ – I feel Crosstown are at the forefront to help shape it.
Why are design and branding important to Crosstown?
We ‘satisfy tastebuds with a moment away from the madness’ – I say that all the time as it reminds me what we are all about. We are a big-city concept where people are time poor and looking for brilliant experiences – knowing this (our market, our customers and where we are) brings complete focus. Without brand and design, how can we (literally and metaphorically) package this focus up and deliver it?
What’s the best reaction anyone’s had to Crosstown Doughnuts?
This is where it’s difficult not to get dirty! There are a ridiculous amount of funny sexual connotations via social media. I don’t think you need to look far on our Instagram feed for comments to see what I mean!
Which Doughnut of yours gets the most compliments?
The chocolate truffle is hard to go past – it has chocolate truffle filling, and a dark chocolate ganache topping. The sea salt caramel with banana cream on the chocolate sourdough is another crowd pleaser. Matcha has it’s following, as does the beetroot sourdough. It’s difficult to separate them as there is something for everyone!
What’s the future for Crosstown Doughnuts?
Well we’ve just opened ‘Vegan Crosstown’ – our first store dedicated to our vegan sourdough doughnuts. We’re always working on new flavours in the bakery. For now, we’ll just continue to keep our head down making fresh every day.