Jared Savage is a senior reporter at the New Zealand Herald

A city of opportunities where clever Kiwis fly

New Zealanders flock to London every year as the base for their OE. Some come home but others stay to seek fame and fortune. Jared Savage meets some of those making it in Britain's Big Smoke.

Richard Reed and Gerard Fisher had a hard time getting their coffee business, Nude Espresso, started in London during the global financial crisis but now have three outlets and roast a tonne of beans every week. Photo / Supplied
Richard Reed and Gerard Fisher had a hard time getting their coffee business, Nude Espresso, started in London during the global financial crisis but now have three outlets and roast a tonne of beans every week. Photo / Supplied

The coffee shop men

Richard Reed walked around London every day for eight months fruitlessly looking for a place to open his coffee shop.

The economy was booming; other business owners would put in a higher offer or go unconditional.

The frustrating search ended in Hanbury St, just off Brick Lane, before another four months dragged on with the lease transfer and building renovation.

"A year had passed before Nude Espresso opened - just in time for the 2008 recession.

"The whole market crashed. Everyone was getting fired left, right and centre around the city as we opened. It was like 'What the hell are we doing?'," says Reed.

They made 34 cups of coffee the first day, a grand total of £174 ($316).

"And we've been operating for nearly five years in that recession atmosphere, we don't know any other way.

"We joke about when the boom times come to London - will that be good for us, or bad? We're just selling cups of coffee."

But the business has survived - and thrived - during turbulent times.

Reed and business partner Gerard Fisher, best friends growing up in Wellington, have expanded Nude Espresso to include a boutique roastery and a second cafe in trendy Soho.

He says London was "a desert for decent coffee" when he was thinking of starting up. Fellow Kiwi-owned cafe Flat White was one of just a handful of places offering a good coffee.

Since then, New Zealand-owned and operated cafes have been the vanguard of the coffee industry and cafe culture in the English capital.

Great coffee and customer service has been the key, says Reed, to "re-educating" customers who had never heard of a flat white.

"People were used to buying half-litre cups from Costa or Nero (UK chain stores). So we started off with small sizes of good quality. People were a bit confused at first."

But nothing comes easy.

Reed was starting work at 6am to bake for the cafe, heading upstairs to make coffee until closing, then roasting coffee beans until 2am.

Within a year of opening, Nude Espresso started selling wholesale coffee and Reed and Fisher started planning to set up a roastery.

They managed to find a site on Brick Lane, just around the corner from the cafe where they now roast a tonne of beans each week.

The beans are bought directly from farmers in Brazil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, which gives them greater control of the finished product.

Beans are sold to other cafes, restaurants, gastro-pubs and businesses around London and Nude Espresso then trains their staff.

They also opened a second cafe in Soho, their third site in three years, which Reed concedes was "a little ridiculous".

But both cafes are now left in the capable hands of senior staff, leaving Reed and Fisher to concentrate on further improving the quality and volume of beans roasted each week.

Reed has worked in the hospitality industry on the other side of the world for 20 years but says there is a real sense of accomplishment in what Nude Espresso has achieved in London.

"It's a hard place to get established, nothing is easy over here. You've got to graft and work hard, keep going, keep going, keep going."

The rock band

By Mark Hitchcock's own admission, his band doesn't look very rock and roll.

With all four members working white-collar jobs to make ends meet, Melic get some "funny looks" when they turn up for a sound check.

"We'll turn up to gigs after our day jobs still suited and booted. I swear the venue managers think we're auditors," laughs Hitchcock.

"No, we're the rock band. Seriously."

Matamata-born Hitchcock moved to London in 2007 and by day works as a business development manager for the company that runs the London Tube network.

By night, he's letting his hair down as the frontman for Melic, which formed in late 2008 over "a few beers and a jam session" with brother Steve, a mate from Matamata, Andrew Coogan, and Romy Bylin.

The Kiwis have built up a loyal following with their eclectic sound, cutting their teeth on the London pub and club circuit to the point where they're now headlined at some of the top venues in town, including the legendary 100 Club.

"The 100 Club is a fantastic place to play with all the history there. You're on stage and there's a picture of Mick Jagger on the exact same stage on the wall behind you. Everyone has played there; it was great to be part of it."

And it was at the 100 Club, just a few hours before going on stage, that the band was signed to record label Beatnik Geek.

There's an album planned for release this year and with the backing of the label, more power to push Melic's music to a wider audience.

Melic also venture outside London, with spots at popular UK music festivals such as Cornbury and Southern Sounds, which was headlined by legendary Australian rockers INXS.

Cornbury Festival has invited them back to play alongside the likes of The Proclaimers, Van Morrison and Keane in July.

Hitchcock says the band has a much stronger following in the UK than back home, although they did manage to pack out five shows in a whirlwind eight-day tour of New Zealand in the middle of last year.

Frequent airplay on main radio stations like The Rock was a big help.

"We were down in Christchurch and we didn't know anyone down there. But it was one of the best gigs, people we didn't know but singing along to every word."

The internet and social media have also radically changed the music grapevine. Technology means word of mouth stretches across continents and language barriers. Hitchcock has an app on his phone which pinpoints exactly where Melic songs are being downloaded from iTunes or streamed from Spotify.

"It's pretty crazy. People are streaming it from Japan and China and the US. And you wonder how the hell people know about it?

"That's the power of the internet, that people can listen to us and then forward it on. Anyone can put their stuff out there now. But with so many bands out there, it does mean we have to raise our hands a little bit higher as the ones to watch."

The banker

When the second Christchurch earthquake struck, the thousands of Kiwis in the UK suddenly felt very far away from home.

Everyone wanted to help or contribute in some small way, but didn't know where to start. Bronwen Horton quickly became the person who connected the dots and got things moving.

Christchurch born and bred, Horton had lived in London with her husband since October 2007 and built relationships with thousands of expats through the New Zealand Businesswomen Network she started.

All those contacts and project management skills as a private banker came in handy when the images of a broken city started filtering through.

One of the first events she organised, with the help of the High Commission, was a prayer vigil at Westminster Cathedral where 5000 Kiwis gathered together to support one another.

Thousands of pounds were raised to send home and a huge fundraising effort just grew from there.

"You're on the other side of the world and you want people back home to know that you're thinking of them," said Horton.

"People really wanted to help but they didn't necessarily know what to do. People were coming up to me, saying 'Do you know someone who could do catering?' or 'Who has a venue we could hold these events at?'. I was just connecting people more than anything, just to help get the word out."

Getting "the word out" eventually involved helping co-ordinate 150 events over six months - raising £3 million ($5.4 million).

Those personal efforts, setting up the businesswomen's network and the fundraising, were described as "extraordinary" when Horton was named the UK New Zealander of the Year on Waitangi Day.

Horton fell in love with London but says the city can "swallow you up" without the right support.

She decided to start the New Zealand Businesswomen Network in 2009 with an initial gathering of 50 - most of whom she already knew.

That number has already swelled to more than 750 on the database.

"It's just word of mouth. We started finding all these amazing women, or they found us. Coming to London is not easy, you've got to have the tenacity to stick it out.

"You don't have that support like you do back home; that's why I felt so strongly to start the network so people can get together ... you get quite inspired by what people are doing here."

Most of the events involve guest speakers who share their stories and practical "tricks of the trade" to succeed.

Horton says the UK is full of opportunities for work - and travel - but bureaucracy and red tape are the biggest hurdles for Kiwis to overcome.

"The New Zealanders who do well over here are the ones who learn the rules, then figure out how to get around them without upsetting the apple cart.

"We are seen as very friendly, we are not a threat in the workplace and we are easy to get along with. But we have the tenacity to make things happen and to get the job done."

- NZ Herald

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