Indie Business Spotlight #1: Zoo Cafe

Zoo café is a Vegetarian and vegan café that was established in 1995. Situated on the hustle and bustle of Newland Avenue, hidden down a side street, the bright blue building catches your eye as you walk down the avenue. That’s how I noticed it, just walking from doing my daily shop to see “Zoo Café” a place I had never been before that I think should be recognised as being a local, independent café. Serving delicious vegan and vegetarian food, zoo café also has live music sessions! A true gem in the heart of the Newland Avenue community, loved by many of the locals.

I spotted the café accidentally, I’m glad I did! Walking down the alley to Zoo café, feels somewhat enchanting as you are greeted with lovely flowers and plants outside of the café and a stunning outside seating area, great for dining in the sun. As you continue to walk into the café, you have the option to sit downstairs or upstairs. The joy of sitting downstairs is that you can see your delicious breakfast or lunch being prepared from scratch and admire the cakes that are displayed beautifully in the glass counter, all homemade.

The staff are so friendly, sitting us down to our table and then taking our orders, promptly after. The atmosphere of the café is very happy and cheerful, you can tell straight away who the regulars are to the popular café. Independent businesses have a significant difference from cooperate companies as the saying goes “made with love” that really is the case at Zoo café.

The menu is varied with lots of choice for everyone with reasonable prices that are affordable. It is very tempting to want to make your way through the menu on numerous visits to the café. Especially when the café is so warm and welcoming.

We ordered the traditional poached eggs on toast and beans on toast, which sounds like your average breakfast dishes but to our surprise it was far from average at the Zoo café. Comparing to bigger companies, zoo café prides itself on fresh ingredients and you can tell straight away. The eggs are free range with wholemeal bread and the beans on toast are mixed beans in homemade smokey tomato sauce. The beans on toast at the café has its own unique twist as it is their own homemade sauce, making it tastier and different to your usual tin of Heinz. The portions at the café are very generous for the price, which is always a positive, the café wants to give you that feeling of having a homemade meal without having to cook it yourself.

Owner, Russ has worked there for around four years, I managed to sit down and talk to him about the café, Russ has worked for many larger companies in the past and throughout his whole career working for a small café like Zoo has been the highlight so far:

“If you want choice, if you want quality and if you want difference you’ve got to support small independents, because they’re the ones usually to carry the passion and the drive to do new and interesting things”

Owner, Russ told us some of the things that makes being independent so important:

“Definitely the freedom it allows to try new things, and make your own choices, and not being controlled by outside forces. That’s the best thing.”

The café is down Newland Avenue which is a very busy and popular place for a mixture of people that live down the avenues and for people that are visiting the area too. Newland Avenue is a place where everyone knows each other, a friendly community between the bars, shops, restaurants etc. The café pride themselves on being in such a good location:

“I’ve lived here a long time, I love Newland Avenue, I love the area and the people it’s a place that’s retained a sense of community which is quite rare these days, it’s very nice to walk along the street and to know everybody, the café lives in the hearts of a lot of local people because it has been here for so long”.

Russ believes that more now than ever it is so important to support independent, as they are local people for local people in a way. Homemade cooking for people who don’t want to spend the odds on eating out. Russ is passionate about his career in hospitality and catering, his inspirations for zoo café is to have:

“Happy, smiley customers, as long as the customers are happy and are giving us good feedback. That’s what inspires us to carry on, happy customers that’s it.”

Like anything you do in life or your career there are ups and downs, Russ has had many challenges along the way while running Zoo café, but he believes you’ve just got to work through things:

“If you’ve got a good support network around you, nothing becomes too much that you can’t deal with. But yeah, we all face challenges every day, you know, we get over them.”

For anyone else wanting to open an independent business it is important to realise it’s not always a walk in the park, it can be hard work, but it is very rewarding. As an independent café owner himself, he thinks:

“Go for it, if you’ve got the passion and the drive and as long as you realise it’s going to be a 24/7 career, it’s not easy but if it pays off it’s great.

Visit Zoo Café at 80b Newland Avenue, Hull.

Words: Katie Lovatt

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