This feature was written for, and first published at, Portobello Business Centre – Success Stories…
Anna Parfirenko is the owner of Leafwild, a fresh, healthy and aesthetically pleasing café on Ladbroke Grove. I met Anna at the peak of the Tuesday morning rush, when the café is filled with multi-lingual chatter, and over coffee she told me of how it all began and her plans for the future…
What does Leafwild do?
‘Leafwild is a concept: an organic, gluten-free, vegetarian café, all about clean eating with no refined sugar. We have a holistic approach based on mindfulness and openness: we are for healthy eating and healthy drinking. And we are for animals. I wanted it to be vegan but that proved too difficult, so we’re in-between the vegi and vegan crowds. We have had to start serving fish and chicken to keep business coming in and we also sell eggs. We care a lot about the coffee. We use a local London company, Beanberry, to supply our organic coffee.
‘Leafwild is aimed at healthy people and when we opened, we noticed a lot of gym people coming in. We bake gluten-free organic cakes using coconut sugar, and we have a brunch menu. We want to develop the business with smoothies, juices, salads, gluten-free sandwiches and snacks like kale chips. We’ll be aiming for the ‘grab-and-go’ crowd. We already attract the trendy crowd who come in just for coffee, Time Out called us the best coffee in Notting Hill, and we are aiming at local businesses too, as we’re close to the tube station.
Why and how did you start?
‘It was a dream. Four years ago, my husband and I started doing dream boards every Christmas and we would put ‘coffee shop’ on there just for fun. We noticed that it was there every year – as they say, be careful what you wish for!
‘I’m a designer and I always had to rely on others to get clients, I wanted to have my own clients.
‘We were considering opening a furniture showroom, that’s why we looked at this property. But my husband is Greek, and he saw that the coffee shops there were thriving even during the economic crisis. He is very open-minded and knew we could handle it.
‘At first, I thought about an Italian deli, but when I started researching coffee shops on Instagram, I realised I wanted to do healthy eating. I’m gluten and dairy intolerant, and I wanted the kind of place I could eat in with my family.
‘Financially, it was difficult as costs are unpredictable. We begged for good bank references and took a bridge loan on our home, used credit cards. We couldn’t get a lease to buy a coffee machine, so we rent one for £500 a month. On the flipside, I designed Leafwild. My husband is an architect and we made a lot of the furniture here. We got Tom Dixon lights in the sample sale, other lights from Ikea. Because of our backgrounds, we could create Leafwild even when we were struggling with money. We saved hundreds of thousands of pounds.
‘After a year, I know all the trends in the industry, all the chefs, the menus, I’ve learned every aspect of the day-to-day and I’m working on the business side. I’ve learned that bad structure puts you in ‘everyday mode’ not in the bigger picture – this is how businesses fail!’
What drives you?
‘I want Leafwild to become a brand. That’s what’s behind the takeaway juice idea. Leafwild Express might be the next one, a small place by a tube station.
‘My future vision is that Leafwild attracts the lunch crowd from the local offices.
‘Beauty is important. I did an MA in Spatial Design at the University of the Arts, London and I wanted to bring that to Leafwild. That’s why we don’t do take-aways in plastic containers. We try to be very sustainable, environmentally friendly, and animal friendly’.
How do you define success?
‘Success would be to be a unique brand. To do that we need to be bigger. The main success will be to do everything in-house, including a bakery. Financially, success will be queues outside Leafwild, to be a local spot where people appreciate the design, for a trendy crowd, people who want to come. When people come and say “wow!”, when celebrities come, that will be success.
‘For me, planning before taking action is a success, including long-term planning, learning about cash flow, cutting out mistakes. To me, learning something from the beginning then implementing it is a success.
‘Now, we have a level of satisfaction because this is our expression, our vision, our taste. But it’s not a business success yet. We have a new manager looking at customer service and we will look to double our weekend income’.
How did PBC help you?
‘I’m a designer and very bad with numbers. I did the Food Start-up course with James from Ned’s Noodles Bar, which was very strong. After that, I went to see Maria, and she came to visit me here. Marianna was also very supportive.
‘Maria gave me a lot of time. All of PBC know me and look after me. They took me to the Kensington and Chelsea Business Awards last year as a representative of small businesses. This year I’ll go to the awards as Leafwild.
‘They told me about holiday pay, salaries, all the legalities. Maria gave me the right links to look at, and they recommended a human resources company called Peninsula and now we’re going to sign a contract with them.
‘Some of the knowledge they gave me kicked in after a while, after we opened. If I have a problem, I can go to PBC. They help me or they refer me on. I have picked up a lot from them and I am going to learn more from them.
‘I was surprised you can get real help in business, from real people with real feelings, not with a tick box. They worry, they understand me, they support me like a mum would. They were really good with my children when I had to bring them to meetings too’.
Address: 156 Ladbroke Grove, London, W10 5NA
Mon to Fri 7:30 to 18:00
Saturday 8:00 to 18:00
Sunday 9:00 to 18:00
Interview conducted and written by Tom Charles @tomhcharles for Portobello Business Centre