Small Business Life

A friendly chat with Imogen from Albatross Cafe – a neighbourhood favourite and Instagrammer’s dream

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Lyzi Unwin
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Now, not to get overly sentimental here, but I’m personally pretty excited about this edition of Lovely Small Stories. I remember spotting some activity going on in an empty shop on North Street in Bedminster, Bristol back in 2017, and immediately sneaking out of my bar job at the time to pop over to say hello and ask what it was going to be – little did I know, it’d become one of my most-frequented spots in my neighbourhood.

Apart from Albatross Cafe being a very Instagrammable plant-filled cafe in Bristol, it has a really special vibe too, which is down to owners Imogen and Louie being lovely human beings, who hire other lovely human beings to work there.

It is a super chilled cafe to sit and enjoy a coffee and cake, and I’ve spent more hours there with my favourite people than I can count – meeting a best friend for a quick pre-work coffee, birthday parties, a first date, anniversaries, a post-work cocktails, a just-needed-to-get-out-of-the-house coffee during the work from home days…

It helps that it’s approximately 2 minutes from my front door, but I would undoubtedly make the trip if it was further away. See, here I am having the time of my life there:


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Alongside hot drinks, Albatross Cafe also supplies Bedminster with crumpets topped with seasonal fruit, homemade cakes – my favourite is the seville marmalade and chocolate croissant cake; I’m addicted, tasty lunch options, and deliciously boozy cocktails, all served in or on cups and plates made by Imogen’s mum – you can even buy items of Jericho Studio Pottery to take home.

Enough of my gushing about how much I adore this BS3 cafe, let’s hear from Imogen about how they got started, the twists and turns of owning a cafe during a pandemic, and what’s next for Albatross Cafe.


1. Why did you start your small business?

We had lived in Berlin for 5 years (where we also ran our own business – a vintage clothes shop), and we loved the cafe culture there; places with good vibes where you could spend all day, chatting to other customers, listening to great music, and drinking good coffee and maybe also a nice glass of good wine too.

We knew we wanted to return to Bristol eventually to settle down after having been students here, and we also knew there weren’t a huge amount of cafes in the city which had a similar vibe to the ones we’d loved in Berlin. So we thought that perhaps, if we found the right space, we could see if we could open one of our own.


2. Tell us about your background before Albatross Cafe

I studied languages at Bristol Uni, and Louie (my life & business partner) had worked in the vintage clothes industry since he was a teenager. After graduating Uni, we moved to London where I worked in PR and Louie managed an East London vintage warehouse.

I knew that the 9-5 office life wasn’t for me and so after a couple of years in London, with my language skills and Louie’s contacts in the vintage fashion industry, we quit our London jobs and moved to Berlin to set up a vintage store there.

Back then (2012) Berlin was still super super cheap, so it didn’t feel as risky as trying to set somewhere up in the UK. Starting a business on a shoestring in our mid-20s in a foreign country wasn’t without its difficulties, but the business did well and we had a lot of fun there.



3. How did you come up with the name of your small business?

A rather long story! Louie and I travelled to New Zealand in 2016 and while we were there, we went on a boat trip off the coast of Kaikoura, where you could jump off the boat and swim with wild dolphins. I wasn’t too sure about it (deep water gives me the heebie-jeebies), and after a few minutes in the water I decided I’d had enough, so I got back on the boat and enjoyed watching the dolphins from there.

What was actually far more impressive to watch from the boat were the albatrosses flying overhead – they were so so huge, so graceful – just really breathtaking to witness. I was fully blown away, and so from that moment I promised myself that if we opened another business, it would have to be called Albatross.


4. What is your personal favourite product, collection or service, and why?

I just really love the atmosphere we’ve created at Albatross Cafe. We work super hard to make sure we have a fantastic team who all bounce positively off one another, as I think a team are pretty integral to how a cafe feels when you visit.

We make sure we take the time to talk to customers, we have a very considered playlist, and also make sure we haven’t crammed the space full of tables so that we have room for more ‘relaxed’ chairs, so people know they are welcome to stay for a while. It’s perhaps not the most profitable way to run a cafe, but it’s super important to us.


5. What’s your bestseller, and why do you think it’s so popular?

Our slow cooked beans! It took us a while to perfect the recipe. Now people travel from pretty far to come to try them, and we always get so many positive comments.



6. What’s the loveliest thing a customer or fan has said about Albatross Cafe, that still makes you smile now?

We’ve had so many people tell us that Albatross is their favourite cafe ever, and honestly, what more can we ask for than that? Running a cafe, especially the behind-the-scenes bits, is really hard work, and to know that our hard work has created many people’s favourite place is something which always makes us smile.


7. What’s the loveliest part of running Albatross Cafe?

The ability to chat to customers face-to-face, and to be able to build great relationships with our regulars. Also, the ability to choose who we work with – we spend so much time with our colleagues, it’s nice to know we’ve handpicked them ourselves and that they’re very good eggs.


8. Tell us about a significant turning point that positively impacted your small business

I would say there hasn’t really been one. Since we opened Albatross Cafe, it’s just been a slow, organic growth, relying on repeat custom from locals and word-of-mouth – lots of small, incremental positive things rather than one significant thing.



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9. What’s a terribly unlovely thing that you’ve experienced that might have had unintended positive consequences?

The Covid lockdowns. Obviously Covid wasn’t a fun time for anyone, and having to close your business for months on end feels pretty rubbish.

Since reopening Albatross Cafe, we’ve been able to use a suspended parking bay in front of the cafe for outdoor seating, which has been an absolute godsend in terms of helping regain lost income by being able to seat more people, as prior to Covid we had no outdoor seating. However, it seems the council want to take it away this Autumn – fingers crossed we can keep it!


10. Sing the praises about an organisation or professional that helped you on your small business journey

Our first ever Barista, Anne-Claire. She is a very highly-trained Barista who turned up at the exact right time for Albatross Cafe, just as we were looking to hire our first team member. Her knowledge of and expertise in speciality coffee and the cafe industry in general were invaluable to us, having had no prior cafe experience. She also really helped shape the vibe of our business – we are forever grateful to her.



11. What’s a lovely thing you have planned for the next 12 months of Albatross Cafe?

We are now offering private hire for the evenings, and we hope to get lots more workshops and even some acoustic music nights booked in – watch this space.


12. As recommended by you

We asked Imogen to recommend 3 podcasts, blogs, or Instagram accounts that she’d recommend to other small business owners…


Charlie has some great tips on how to balance running a business while raising a family – we have a three year old who’s not in childcare and it definitely makes running a business while juggling childcare fairly challenging.


A bakery in Bude that has stunning spreads and a great vibe – it’s always good to be inspired by other businesses and this is definitely one of the more inspiring for us.


A lovely account cheerleading indie businesses in the city.

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