This is a picture of my favourite cup of coffee.
It’s served by my favourite place in town.
It’s quite possibly the BEST coffee house in the country.
And I appreciate that’s quite a claim.
But I have travelled all corners of the UK and not found one better.
So what makes Steep Street so special?
Where to begin?
It sits towards the top of a narrow, cobble-stoned street between the town centre and the harbour – so plenty of residents, workers and visitors passing by.
The coffee house has a distinctive split-level facade, with tall and wide windows. The outside is painted green and orange (tables and chairs outside match the orange).
Through one window you get a glimpse of the tempting cakes on the counter. Through the other you see people seated on a faux-leather sofa or chair, looking back at you.
Through both you notice the walls are lined with shelves laden with books.
This is no ordinary coffee house.
It stops people walking up or down the hill in their tracks. I love sitting inside, watching out and observing the way visitors react.
Their heads turn. They see the big windows. They take in the busy tables. They spot the hint of cake. They squint and see the wall of books inside.
If a couple or small party, there is a pause. You can see one of them ask the question “Shall we go in?”
And more often than not they do.
Once inside the magic continues.
You get to see the array of cakes and treats on the counter close up.
All the food is prepared, made and baked on the premises. Some of it is gluten-free. Some vegan. Some just lovingly made for everyone.
This is a place that cares.
The welcome is warm and friendly – whether resident or regular, visitor or overseas tourist.
That’s the same, whoever is behind the counter.
Dogs are welcome, too.
When you order at the counter at busier times, they give you a numbered book to take to your table. It helps them find you.
The’res a nice feel to the place.
The books are not just decorative. You can read them over your tea or coffee. You can buy one if you wish.
Some of the tables have a tumbler of chalk. It allows children – and creative or playful adults – to draw on the table top. (Don’t worry, the chalk wipes off with a cloth).
So it’s family-friendly, too.
The music in the background is good and varied. Never overpowering.
There are leaflets and posters around – so you can see what’s going on locally. It’s one way the coffee house supports other local businesses in the town’s Creative Quarter.
They serve different teas. They even serve cocktails and other alcoholic beverages.
There’s a small but lovely range of food for breakfast, brunch or lite-bite lunch (it’s not big on hot meals).
And, of course, the cakes.
Vanilla and blueberry. Chocolate. Carrot cake. Vegan cake. Victoria Sponge. Apple Crumble cake. Chocolate orange. Mocha cake.
Simply scrumptious. I’ve tried them all. All yummy.
Then, of course, there is the coffee.
Taste is a very personal thing. I get that. But this is a good coffee. A great coffee.
I love it.
I am a bit of a coffee snob, for sure. I’m picky.
This one just hits the mark every time.
Consistency of welcome. Consistency of customer service. Consistency of product.
And there’s more to the story of the success of this coffee house…
Owners Steve and Alice used to live in Sussex. They worked in corporate land, business world or some such like.
They visited Folkestone a few times – and really liked the feel of it. One day they were walking down the Old High Street when they saw a unit was available.
The idea of quitting their jobs and running a coffee house together.had been at the back of their minds for a while.
They decided to go for it. And within four months of seeing the vision they had opened their doors to customers for the first time.
That was four years’ ago,
I remember back then it was just the two of them, with a parent or two helping out with serving or clearing tables.
Apparently quite a few local traders had told the pair they would struggle to survive… “there’s just not the footfall”, they said.
But the doubters were wrong.
The coffee house became busier and busier. It now has its own in-house cook and baker, and several staff on at any one time.
And here’s the thing.
They have achieved this success with little or no marketing.
Sure, they have a website and a Facebook page – but they’ve not paid to drive any traffic to those pages.
No social media campaigns.
No sales funnels.
How was this possible?
Through the most powerful marketing tool history has ever known…
… Word of mouth.
I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes and ears. It’s a very common thing to see two people enter the cafe, one turn to the other and say “This is the place I was telling you about”.
I have heard of people making significant driving detours to enjoy a coffee and cake here. Friends from London (just 55 minutes away on the train) have popped down for the day to see what all the fuss is about.
I brought visiting family from Australia here because I know how much they savour great coffee and cafe experiences.
That’s what can happen when everything comes together well.
A clear vision.
Working to a set of values.
Wonderful customer service.
A unique selling point (like offering a continental-style book cafe in a small UK town just 19 miles from the Continent).
Consistent quality, experience and service.
Doing the simple things well.
Some might say, a piece of cake.
Enjoy your next coffee (other refreshments are available).
P.S. By the way, the refreshments at this cafe are on me when you spend a day to work through your marketing, messaging, positioning or copy. Fancy some clarity by the English Channel coast with a bit of coffee and cake thrown in?
Get in touch and let’s plan the day (or half day) for your business. Weather’s looking good for it.