Estimated reading time:5 minutes, 50 seconds
Everyone has a story. Have you seen the little tuk tuk tucked into the corner of Christchurch Vicarage by Church Path on Highbury Fields? If not you have a treat in store – The Daily Grind’s artisan coffee made by former Highbury Grove student Jack Tomkins. Interview by Nicola Baird
“People say it’s got a rustic, forest feel – like being in a festival,” says Jack Tomkins who spent two and a half years combing central London for the perfect spot to park his decommissioned tuk tuk and open a coffee café, The Daily Grind, at the Highbury Barn end of Highbury Fields. “We’ve been lucky to find this site in the Vicarage Garden and meet Jonathan (the vicar),” says Jack cheerfully making a cappuccino to go for a customer, “as even on the grimmest days I can still enjoy the scenery.”
It wasn’t that long ago when Jack, who is now 27, was an unhappy student at Highbury Grove School. “I was short and tubby, you could have rolled me,” says Jack laughing, who is now tall and slim despite wearing layers to guard against the cold. “And the school’s response to me being bullied was ‘your son’s got to toughen up’!” Fortunately when he was in Year 9 Jack’s family were able to move to Maldon, “where the salt comes from”, in Essex
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“Maldon is a really lovely community and we live just five minutes from the estuary,” says Jack who finished his studies, and then at 24 was trained in gourmet coffee, and as a barista, by Union Hand Roasted in Canning Town. It’s clear Jack is absolutely passionate about coffee, for example The Daily Grind house coffee is a Brazilian Daterra, renown in coffee circles for its sustainability credentials, which Jack gets from Climpson, a well-known cafe and barista training site, based at London Fields in east London.
Jack opens his café from 7.30am to 4pm Monday – Saturday, but if he can get his Barking-born, busy, bathroom-fitting Dad, Gary, to do a stint at The Daily Grind, then Jack likes to spend his time off visiting London’s very best coffee shops.
Jack’s passion for the best beans is good news for Highbury coffee drinkers – and don’t worry tea and hot chocolate is also served. In November there’s also a plan to introduce croissants too.
“You get a lot of people commuting to work past here, and a lot of mums,” says Jack. “I usually say ‘Are you off to work?’ and “Have you far to go?’ but I was surprised when one Highbury man said he was a NASCAR driver and had to go to Mexico one week and then the next to Texas. That’s a long commute! I meet lots of interesting people, including doctors, teachers, psychotherapists and TV actresses… and see lots of cyclists speed past.”
Places Jack Tomkins likes in and near Islington
- “If coffee enthusiasts come here (to The Daily Grind café) I always mention Blighty Coffee on 35-37 Blackstock Road. As a barista you notice coffee machines!”
- “When I’m working I basically live here for the day. I bring my packed lunch, but I’d like to know more about coffee and coffee shops. I want to spend time at Prufrock in Leather Lane, co-owned by the ex World Barista Champion, Gwilym Davies.
- Even back when we lived here I had a fondness for Highbury Fields. We’d come here after school. It’s a nice place and it was such a relief to get away from the Highbury Grove swimming pool, which was so dirty in those days, and be in the fields.”
- “We used to live at Newington Green – it used to have shrubbery as high as The Daily Grind’s gazebo where people were lurking. I used to think it was like Sherwood Forest. We were always told don’t go there, it’s where the druggies are. Newington Green is staggeringly different now and I hear it has a very good café.”
Most of The Daily Grind customers want a take-away coffee, but there are two tables, both covered with giant umbrellas, where you can settle comfortably out of the rain or sun. Because it’s a friendly set-up at The Daily Grind you can be sure someone will chat to you if you want some company. The tuk tuk doesn’t go any more – it had to be towed to this site – but ask Jack its history and he’ll tell you how it used to belong to an Essex lorry driver who bought it after he damaged his back, but then miraculously recovered, leaving him with a choice between running a “coffee business on the side or taking his beloved 1962 mini to car shows”. The mini won, and so Jack and his Dad were able to buy it and get The Daily Grind up and running. Jack made a few changes, introducing a jug washer – so foamed milk doesn’t need to be reheated – and a juicer.
It is a coincidence that Jack’s life is again focused around Highbury Fields, but it’s clear he’s very happy to be back. “We pay rent directly to the church which is in part funding the church spire repairs and then it will go to fund a child care worker (a learning support assistant) for schools in the area with students who have been excluded or have learning difficulties. They might operate out of Highbury Grove, which is really cool since that was my old school,” says Jack. “I’m surprised how it’s all come together.”
Which of course is exactly what a cup of coffee can make you feel too. Do go and visit The Daily Grind when you next walk across Highbury Fields – Yorkshire tea is £1.50 and the camomile Islington Faces drank was made from a generous bunch of dried flowers served in an infuser net. Espresso is £1.50, Americano £2 and a flat white £2.50.
- www.thedailygrindac.com is open 7.30am-4pm, Monday – Saturday.
Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.