The Shepherdess Cafe

The Shepherdess Cafe is not what you’d expect from this part of town.  In the heart of tech city, in streets more densely populated with baristas, hipsters and tech start-uppers than anywhere else and barely a few minutes walk from Old Street roundabout a cafe ought, surely, to be crafted from the recovered timber of old railway sleepers or pews from an empty church.  Penny farthings should be hanging from the ceiling and the menu should be baffling and intimidating and hysterically OTT. This, give or take, describes them all, round here. And for all that I mock them I love them.
But in the Shepherdess Cafe the surfaces are utilitarian formica, the strip lights are migraine-bright and the green and white check curtains are painted onto the windows. As you peer through the painted-upon glass out onto City Road, you spy day-dreaming yoga bunnies, mission-oriented techpreneuers and aloof fashionistas. But inside here are the people who are creating the world we live in. Not whizkid programmers but bricks and mortar builders and they are enjoying the best breakfast in Britain. This is not a wild assertion, nor a post truth nor an alternative fact. It is verifiable and it was awarded by a building magazine whose name, not being a regular reader, I can’t recall. This serves the best Builders Breakfast in Britain. Actual fact. Look it up.
Not being a builder, I am an interloper here. Yet behind me I overhear a conversation which goes along the lines of: “If we were in fintech we’d have gone to angels but instead we’re going live on crowdcube. There’s an appetite for crowd-investing in the convergence of AI and media analytics…”
And this hurts a little because clearly I am not the only non-builder in here. In fact this place is now on the map with the advance guard of the area’s startuppers which means it is not at all my own personal discovery.
As I have mostly given up saying the sheer number of coffee shops in the Shoreditch area is the sort of the thing that the fact-minded should never think about because  the numbers cannot be made to add up. Do it and  you will lose your faith in the scientific method and calculus. The number of coffee shops and cups per day breaks the theory of demand and supply and forces you to adopt the impressionistic mathematics of Trump inauguration day crowd-counting.
The rest of the cafes may not serve the best builders breakfast in Britain but they are always full. And they are all cool. And at the same time as they are all full so are the all the co-working spaces which are increasingly just as cool and at least as fully occupied and at least as reproductive as the coffee shops.
All are stuffed with people working in or with startups which means that at any time you could elbow the person next to you on a bench (drinking coffee or tapping on a laptop) and find that you are next to someone from one of the leading companies in the world in AI, fintech, fashion tech, crowdsourcing, ad tech or whatever is next.
The concentration of talent in this part of town, has forced upward the sophistication of startup finance, and together this has created a virtuous circle. But this is only a partial explanation of the success of the Old Street scenius. In itself he virtuous circle would not be enough to sustain the enthusiasm and energy of the area. Without doubt smart companies attract smart money and smart engineers( and marketeers and designers etc) and they in turn attract more money and more founders etc. but what keeps people here is that this is an interesting and exciting place to live and work and party.
The secret is that this part of town thrives without the startup scene. There isn’t the sort of dependency that you find in some university towns. There are in fact great places to eat and drink, elusive pop art galleries, and art house cinemas, dance clubs , museums, pubs, schools,  hospitals, shops, gyms etc  which are all populated  by more people than you could shake an algorithm at who have nothing to do with the startup scene. And they live here.
This does more than add to the richness of the area. To the entrepreneurs it means the bubble of startup mania never inflates to absurd onanistic proportions because is frequently punctured and infused with real life friction. For while it is true that you might be drinking a beer next to someone turning banking upside down you might also be next to a physio, a dentist, a physical trainer, a waiter, a shopkeeper or a builder.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInWhatsApp