Meet the owners
Espresso Library: Is it a bike shop, is it a café, or perhaps an art gallery? Actually, it’s a quirky fusion of all three, as owner John Gull explains
What inspired you to launch Espresso Library in 2015?
Before Espresso Library I was teaching maths at CATS, which is an international sixth form in Cambridge. But I wanted to do something a little more interesting that reflects my passions and Espresso Library is essentially my attempt to do this. I’d trained as a waiter when I was 18 and always really enjoyed going to independent cafes – and back in 2015 the Cambridge food scene wasn’t like it is today. Basically I wanted to create something beautiful.
Espresso Library is unique in being a cafe-cum-gallery-cum cycling club – tell us a little more about that?
At the time I opened Espresso Library I was a competitive athlete in cycling, and we started a cycle club alongside the café. For many months it was just me and friends, but eventually more people started to join us; today, there are about 30 people that show up every Saturday rain or shine and cycle around 100 kilometres. I’m incredibly proud of that. The art gallery is great fun too; we always have a fab opening party when we change over exhibitors every couple of months. My wonderful art curator Amy Stevens is doing an amazing job putting on our shows, which people can follow on Instagram at espressolibraryart.
You have a lot of plant-based healthy options on the menu, don’t you?
Healthy and delicious is a hard balance to strike as people are becoming increasingly plant-based. Almost everything we offer is organic and we offer four types of plantbased milk for our drinks. Our vegan fluffy pancakes are a big hit but having said that you can still bring your carnivore friends and they’ll be kept happy with the best bacon sandwich in town!
What are your signature dishes?
Other than the fluffy pancakes, Espresso Library is best known for its avocado toast which is customisable. I like mine with Marmite, fresh chopped chilli and tempeh, which is absolutely delicious. Though it’s not a signature, I personally think our soup, cooked fresh each day by our amazing chef, is one of the best dishes; the French onion is particularly delicious. Although the restaurant is currently only open for breakfast and lunch, we are going to start opening on Friday evenings with a pianist on the grand piano, so we are excited about that.
Where do you source your delicious speciality coffee?
We buy coffee roasted by Officina which is based just south of the Cambridgeshire border in Essex and supplied by the wonderful Rory and Marcella. When I started Espresso Library I sourced lots of the best coffee from around the country then did a blind test comparison with the people of Cambridge and this one won! It strikes the balance between high quality and crowd pleasing.
Tell us about Espresso Library 2, which has opened near the Grand Arcade?
It’s predominantly a takeaway coffee shop so very different to the main restaurant, but it is really very beautiful. The coffee cups have been designed by my mother, so customers get a choice of fish or flower cups. Speaking of fish, we have a fish tank right in the middle of the café with six fish, all of which have coffee names, so we’ve got Flat White, and you can tell which one he is because he’s flat and he’s white! Cappuccino has a bit of chocolate sprinkle colouring. But the main feature is the ceiling, which is a depiction of The Creation by Michelangelo, and quite magnificent.
How has Espresso Library navigated the pandemic?
Obviously the pandemic has been tough on businesses and has forced innovation. I developed my online shop in that time and sold cycling kits and various things. I suppose the biggest change was having the time to create Espresso Library 2, which is aimed at Cambridge’s tourists.
What are your dreams for the future of the business?
I hope the brand continues to be popular and I hope that one day there’ll be an Espresso Library in America, but that may be a long way off!
Visit Espresso Library at East Road and St Andrew’s Street, Cambridge. Find out more at espressolibrary.com
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