Entrepreneurial young trio Adam Jackowski, Tom Yip and Daniel Esteban epitomise the infectious climate of regeneration sweeping Croydon at present. Following the notable success of their pop-up burger restaurant, BRGR&Beer, they’ve added Wine&Deli – a unit in the newly-opened Boxpark Croydon – to their bow.
Boxpark’s original site opened in London’s Shoreditch back in 2011 with a vibrant mix of modern street market and pop-up retail mall. This new site in Croydon channels much the same philosophy, but with a sole focus on food and beverage. Though it features a number of global names, Boxpark Croydon acts as fertile ground for independent retailers, creating a unique platform to connect with a wide and captive audience.
Of course, the presence of widely recognised chains, and the compact nature of the units – which are composed of repurposed shipping containers – mean that independents still have their work cut out to make an impact and draw in custom. First impressions, in this case, are everything, and the Wine&Deli team made a conscious decision to create a bold and exciting interior – cue Avocado Sweets.
Founded by husband and wife team, Evros and Susie Agathou, Avocado Sweets has a flair for channelling the passion and core values of its clients into their designs, with a characteristic quirky twist. Having worked with the likes of Chit Chaat Chai and Little Saigon – both of which were launching debut restaurants, and with bucketloads of passion and energy – Evros and Susie were the perfect pairing for Adam, Tom and Daniel in their new venture.
"With global brands finding new ways to diversify and emulate the more unique attributes of independents, a strong brand identity and an interior that can draw in and keep custom has never been more important."
Wine&Deli’s offering – think small plates, cured meats, cheeses and a carefully curated selection of wine and beer – is top notch, and may traditionally be considered highbrow fare, but the guys wanted the dining experience to be firmly informal and, most importantly, fun.
The team initially went to Avocado Sweets with an industrial-style interior in mind and, while Evros and Susie were receptive to their ideas and vision, they also developed another scheme concurrently that they felt best captured the boys knowledge and passion. To Evros and Susie’s delight, they loved this alternate concept, and the bold, vibrant interior of Wine&Deli began to take shape very quickly from here.
Of course, the 40 by 8ft site brought with it some integral challenges. As it was an empty shell, it needed to be built from scratch, and in as short a timescale as possible. In fact, the design process was completed in just six weeks, with a build phase of around 30 days.
Given this tight turnaround and the nature of the Boxpark environment as a whole, Adam tells me that Avocado Sweets’ expertise in construction and their knowledge of the regulations and legislation surrounding the operation were utterly invaluable.
The size of the unit presented Evros with a number of considerations in relation to layout, guest comfort and all-important covers. Elements such as the inward-folding doors removed precious space, and with a kitchen and bar area to incorporate in addition to the main dining area – this was no small challenge. At times, Evros tells me, the team were working with millimetres to maximise every available avenue.
“I didn’t want to articulate the Art Deco theme in it’s neat and distinguished form,” Evros tells me, “I wanted to layer the design physically and metaphorically to bring more of contemporary Croydon to the table.”
Having said this, decisions borne from spatial restrictions have actually boosted the informal, social atmosphere the guys wanted to achieve. The decision to use paper plates and small tumblers for wine mean that additional storage space is not required, but also serves to remove the unwanted formalities of the dining experience. The wine is displayed on the counter – both to save space, and to allow customers to visualise the carefully-selected offering and choose based on appeal. In essence, the design doesn’t take itself seriously, much like Adam, Tom and Daniel.
This is not to say, however, that an incredible amount of work, talent and vision has not gone into the space. Avocado Sweets have fully immersed themselves in the project – both in terms of the guys’ business approach, and in terms of Croydon’s architecture and recent resurgence.
Evros tells me that he likes to take a “method-actor” approach when it comes to design, and has spent time researching and appreciating the area’s prominent Art Deco architecture, graffiti art scene and its local history – apparently Croydon was once home to the first international airport constructed in the UK, who knew!
Elements of Art Deco styling are certainly prominent within Wine&Deli’s interior, but not in a traditional sense. “I didn’t want to articulate the Art Deco theme in it’s neat and distinguished form,” he tells me, “I wanted to layer the design physically and metaphorically to bring more of contemporary Croydon to the table.”
The stunning Art Deco wallpaper on the right hand side of the restaurant, for example, has been overlaid with street art created by a professional artist. On the left, the wall is entirely composed of Art Deco posters selected and applied by the Wine&Deli team.
The Tom Dixon lighting was Avocado Sweets’ luxury purchase, Evros tells me, with something of a twinkle in his eye as he looks at Adam. Bought as a choice investment piece, the ceiling and wall lights bring a warmth and high quality feel to the space.
We move on to talk of the difficult decision independent brands face when it comes to investment – not just in terms of where to spend and where to save, but far more broadly in the sense of investing in interior design as a whole. It can be a real conflict, Susie explains, when start-ups are faced with the significant initial outlay of hiring design professionals, but she is confident that in most, if not all cases, this investment will pay dividends in the longterm.
“We’re so pleased that the judges have recognised the amount of work that has gone into the project and the different, but no less complex, challenges that come with designing a space this size.”
Navigating logistics, construction, health and safety legislation and so on is one thing, but even if this is executed successfully, there is still the saturated and highly competitive nature of the market to contend with. With global brands finding new ways to diversify and emulate the more unique attributes of independents, a strong brand identity and an interior that can draw in and keep custom has never been more important.
If independents can get it right first time, there is no reason why they can’t rival the popularity and success of global chains, if they so wish, as evidenced by Wine&Deli’s recent nomination for a prestigious SBID award.
“Awards are a real bonus for us,” Susie says. “We’re so pleased that the judges have recognised the amount of work that has gone into the project and the different, but no less complex, challenges that come with designing a space this size.”
The independent restaurant scene has so much to offer, and the diversity it brings – as Boxpark Croydon so uniquely demonstrates – is vitally important. Having said this, investing in an interior to match the passion and character of a brand, as Wine&Deli has, can make all the difference in the world.