Venue: Vinyl Café, Portobello Road
Interviewers: Tom Charles and Angel Lewis
Interviewee: Jake Furey, owner
In this era of gentrification, Urban Dandy was cheered by a visit to Vinyl Café on Portobello, which has grown out of the owner’s hugely successful vinyl stall on Portobello market that also imports vinyl from all over the world. We thoroughly recommend a visit. Here’s why…
We arrive at 9:00 and are greeted with The Buena Vista Social Club playing in the background. The chef comes from the kitchen to turn down the music and agrees to replay ‘Candela’ for us. He and Tom agree they know each other from somewhere, somehow. Familiar faces.
The business owner Jake arrives at 9.15, offers us drinks and, before we begin our questioning, Jake explains the importance of getting the right vibe with food and music.
Jake: ‘The Mouth is the gateway to the soul isn’t it? It’s all sensory, eyes, mouth, nose…
UDL: What was your intention in opening the café?
Jake: To make as much money as possible (laughs). I’m just kidding.
To create somewhere where people can come to eat good food, where they can feel relaxed. It’s a people place, they can turn up in their slippers and hang out, they can bring their kids. I just wanted to create something cool. I want it to be genuine, authentic and to add something to the area. We source 95% of our food from the market.
UDL: Where does the music come in? Is it your first love?
Jake: (Instantly) No! Family is, always. I have three girls and a wife. They’re my first love, music next. I was an artist, I was flown out to LA for two months to record. Craig Kallman from Atlantic records heard my voice and said he needed to take a meeting with me. I was supposed to go back to LA but my first child was born so, you know, a child needs a father. You know how the music business goes, one day you’re in demand, the next you’re not. I love my kids, even though they drive me insane (laughing). My middle one is a great actress…
UDL: What did you do in music? Sing? Rap?
Jake: I sang and wrote, like Soulful Pop. If I had time again I’d do it completely differently. Rather than let the business manipulate you, you have to manipulate the business.
How is business at Vinyl Café so far?
Jake: We’re doing okay, it’s not even six months yet and we’re okay. I have a Canadian business partner also; Alison King. There are six people working on the food and one person on the vinyl. You need people to know how to sell it. People know me, actually I heard someone shouting “Jake, Jake” the other day and it was Brian Eno. He was like ‘Jake where you been?’ I was at the café. Brian is a down to earth guy, he’s a positive influence for people in Portobello Road, he’s one of us.
UDL: This spot was a French Bakery right, but not for long. What did they do wrong?
Jake: They knocked everyone and he didn’t run it professionally. Well who’s to say I’m running this professionally? Time will tell. I have the next three months planned out and it’s fine because I need the challenge. I’m running this and the stall too, to give the stall up in the week would be tough because that’s my bread and butter.
UDL: What about the gentrification in the area?
Jake: Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad. There seems to be a disparity in the area…no there doesn’t seem to be a disparity, there is a disparity. You either have an ASBO or you’re middle class. If you look at what’s classed as working class now, it’s actually a social underclass. Unless you’re a millionaire, you can’t afford to buy in this area any more.
UDL: How does this affect your business plan?
Jake: I don’t really have a business plan. Word of mouth is the way because I can talk but I can’t see this space from your eyes and I try to listen as much as I can. Even if they say something negative I try to take the positive. Right now I’m playing around with changing a few things. I’m thinking about the next round of funding.
Some ten workers walk into the shop and fill the bigger table next to us. Jake starts talking to them, he tells them to make themselves comfortable. One of the men says ‘as long as you have red wine’. Jake responds ‘We have red and white and a lovely Cava’ and they continue in this fast witted style in a few more exchanges in which Jake is totally at ease.
Jake: You see, interaction. You have to interact, this is what I do. When you have a brain and a mouth you can talk to anyone.
UDL: Tell us about your staff
Jake: I’ve hired a small team who love what they’re doing. The kitchen is vital. I’ve gone through six chefs in 16 weeks in order to put together the right team.
Jake: I’m not an ego maniac. I’m not Chairman Mao, but there’s an output expected. The team I’ve got now, they’re foodies, they’re happy to be in the kitchen, they’re not just doing ‘a job’. With food and with music, you can do it for love or for money, there’s a difference. Now, if you can combine love and money…
UDL: Tell us more about how you see this place
Jake: Life experience has brought us to where we are now, and that’s reflected. We don’t want to be Google, or some other massive company. But if we can last the first 12 to 18 months, and have a good product, then familiarity will breed comfort. It can also breed contempt (laughing) so I have to ask myself what I can do to create something even more comfortable and more profitable?
One of the group of men asks Jake about a rare Beech Boys box set for sale. The item is one of a run of only 5000 made. Another of the party declares his love for acid jazz, of which Jake is knowledgeable. As the conversation fades, a Miles Davis Jazz tune fills the Vinyl Café. Classy music for a charismatic café. Great food, too, and competitive prices. Well worth a regular visit.