Saint Ayres coffee shop in London

Coffee shops: learning from the past

Lois and Michela Wilson are the founders of Saint Aymes, the London café-experience that embodies their belief that beauty has the power to elevate the human spirit. Born and bred in London, the entrepreneurial sisters are inspired by their grandparents, who emigrated from Barbados and forged a beautiful life for their family in the UK.

Lois and Michela have now teamed up with BRITA Professional, as part of their Grounds of Innovation campaign, to celebrate and support coffee shops as hubs of creativity and innovation. Here, they discuss how we can learn from the role that coffee shops played in the past to reinvigorate the sector today.

Louis and Michela

Uplifting and luxurious

When Lois and Michela set about creating a brand, they knew only that they wanted it to be “for beauty’s sake”. They settled on producing luxury chocolates, which they call edible artworks. “But as we were creating the business, we would always go to coffee shops to plan it, and we would seek out the most beautiful spaces,” says Lois. “They elevated how we felt.”

However, the places that appealed the most were upmarket hotels and restaurants such as Sketch and Berners Tavern. Michela and Lois wanted to make that luxe approach accessible by bringing it to coffee shops.

“We felt there was a gap in the way that coffee shops were designed,” says Lois. “You can make coffee at home, so if you leave your house for coffee, it should be better than your house. And we were finding habitually, you’re leaving your comfortable sofa to go and sit on MDF wood! It’s just not giving the vibe that you’d want.”

Lois drinking coffee at Saint Aymes

Historic hubs

Instead, the pair dreamt of opening a business harking back to the days when coffee shops weren’t just somewhere you’d go to set up a laptop.

They certainly had a rich history to draw upon. In the 17th century, coffee shops were known as “penny universities” for the role they played in introducing people to new ideas. Later, they achieved notoriety as meeting places for revolutionaries in America and France.

But most of all, they were famed as hubs of creativity and innovation where you might discuss philosophy with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, watch Pablo Picasso sketch out ideas, or hear Bob Dylan strum a few chords.

“Coffee shops have a landmark place in many people’s minds,” says Michela. “I’m sure many an author, film director, and business owner has gone to a coffee shop and come up with their great idea.”

Saint Aymes coffee shop

Retro and fresh

Fittingly, the flower-festooned aesthetic of the Saint Aymes café on Connaught Street, near Hyde Park, combines retro-cool glamour with a fresh twist.

“We just love the brand Dior, that aesthetic of 40s luxury,” says Lois. “We love that idea of dinner and jazz, where people used to dress up and sit in a nice space to eat. That whole feeling of being treated and someone putting effort into little details.”

Saint Aymes now attracts creatives, Instagrammers, entrepreneurs and everyone who shares the sisters’ love of beauty.

“I think we’ve created a shift in movement away from hardwood uncomfortable seating,” says Michela. “I think that coffee shops are again more aware of how to be luxurious, which is where they started in general. That’s how they used to be, and it’s going back to that now.”

Saint Aymes coffee shop with tea, milkshake, cake and unicorn biscuit

Looking to the past to plan a way forward

The world today is very different from just a few years ago. We’re in what Michela calls “a weird transition”, in which office workers are working from their living rooms, younger people are sharing homes with no communal space, and people are leaving London for the countryside in their droves. Coffee shop owners may be questioning how to adapt.

But again, Michela and Lois believe that harnessing that original coffee shop spirit can provide a direction for future success. Coffee shops have historically been hotbeds of revolutionary thinking – and now, post-pandemic and with the cost of living rising, is the time for a new wave of culture-changing ideas and innovation.

“Are coffee shops trying to foster people being productive and getting their work done? Or are we trying to foster creativity?” says Lois. “Creativity encourages community, encourages conversations, people painting and doing art and looking around. Whereas productivity is just doing your work, and it isn’t necessarily great for the business model of a coffee shop.

“When you actually focus on fostering innovation and creativity, you’re more likely to create a community, and you’re more likely to stand out,” she says. “And that’s better for your coffee shop.”

Saint Aymes pink coffee

Starting the next coffee shop revolution with BRITA Professional

Just as revolutionary ideas have been formulated in cafés throughout history, BRITA’s latest innovation emerged from coffee shops. Working with coffee shop partners, BRITA Professional has developed an industry game changer: the world’s first smart filtration system.

BRITA’s PURITY C iQ is much more than just a filter cartridge. It gives you up-to-the-minute data on the performance and condition of your water filters, the quality of incoming flow, and how much water you’re using. Settings are automatically adjusted to your specifications, ensuring your customers get the perfect cup of coffee every time.

Learn more about the innovation behind PURITY C iQ here.

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