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Eating Beans and Wearing Fleece at Norman's Cafe
By Finlay Renwick
Jul 13, 2022
Arriving in four new colours with a nod to classic hiking style, our zip-up thick pile bouclé fleece is made from a premium Italian wool blend with sporty white hardware and signature Drake's flag embroidery. Testing it out in (not so) mountainous North London are Elliott Kaye and Richie Hayes, friends and founders of Norman's Cafe, a new take on the old school Great British caff that's earned rave reviews, a loyal online following and queues every weekend. Over beans on toast and builders tea (plus a couple of flat whites) we photographed the pair sporting the fleece inside Norman's and found out more about their simple food success story.
“People really, really love brunch,” says Elliott Kaye, wearing the vaguely haunted look of a man who has either seen some things in a war zone or faced more than one barrage of scrambled egg and sausage sandwich orders from Sunday morning punters. “We’ve started to get queues outside the door on weekends. It’s a bit mad.”
Along with his friend and business partner, Richie Hayes, Kaye is the co-owner of Norman’s Cafe in Archway, North London, a modern interpretation of the old school British caff. Opened in November, 2020, right in the dark winter of our Covid discontent, Norman’s has become a London food destination with a capital D, quickly gaining a reputation for both its simple, appealing and nostalgic menu: ham, egg and chips, bubble and squeak, chip butties, beans on toast, a chicken escalope sandwich with spicy mayo and red Leicester cheese on white bread and, of course, all manner of fry ups, and for its social media presence, with uniform top-down shots of the food on simple white china plates against grey-white plastic tables. The visual consistency, soft pale lighting and familiar dishes make for a soothing and vicariously delicious scroll on the morning Jubilee line commute.
“I’d say 80 percent of people who eat here first discovered us on Instagram,” says Kaye, who has finished setting up the stainless steel chairs and red and white check tables outside the cafe’s entrance, the sun bleeding through the big city smog. A beautiful day for a full English. “You’d be amazed what happens when you post a bacon sandwich to Instagram on a Saturday morning!"
Elliott Kaye and Richie Hayes, the founders of Norman's Cafe
Rather than open in a more traditionally trendy or epicurean part of the city: Dalston, Peckham, Borough or Soho, Norman's sits on an unassuming row of small businesses near Archway station, next to a furniture upholster and a salon called Elite Hair Lounge. “It was just a case of us finding the right spot,” says Kaye, who has an angular face and and an easy-going manner, wearing slouchy cords and scuffed New Balance. The pair, along with a single builder, gutted and renovated the whole site in two months. Kaye’s girlfriend did the painting. Once a Spanish restaurant, the interior of Norman’s now feels like a tasteful time capsule, the platonic ideal of a caff. Cool and retro, without feeling irritating or pastiche. There’s Checkerboard flooring, framed black and white family portraits, vintage Guinness ads and that Bobby Moore World Cup ’66 photo on the wall; cans of Stella in the fridge and Colman’s and Heinz in glass bottles on the tables. Hayes is busy prepping for the morning’s first arrivals in the space’s tiny kitchen. Ovens are opened, timers beep, meat is grilled and grilled again. Smiling and shaven-headed in an apron and a clean chef’s smock, he serves as the man in the kitchen, while Kaye operates the front of house. Although, given the fact it’s just the two of them with the odd extra pair of hands, they tend to pitch in when and where they’re needed.
“We set up the cafe because we love making this kind of food,” says Kaye, leaning next to the register, showing me photos of the site’s renovation on his phone, the skeleton of a restaurant-to-be. “We ate it growing up and spent a lot of time in cafes. Everyone can relate to eggs on toast, it’s approachable. We just want to do that well. We both met while working in pubs and fine dining restaurants around East London and always had this idea of opening a cafe. We’re making traditional English food that’s affordable and pairing it with good coffee.” There’s also natural wine and dinner on Thursday and Friday evenings. “Fish and chips and a few other bits."
Kaye recalls, in previous restaurant jobs, feeling a growing sense of isolation from the food that he was serving. “I was just… getting a bit tired of it all and kept thinking back to this idea that we had. The cafe. Cooking and serving simple food that made people happy. That people recognised and felt a connection to."
The door jangles and the first customers of the day begin to roll in. A regular is greeted, then a couple with a young child in a pram. A guy in an electric blue full-length leather coat and cowboy boots takes a seat and asks for a bacon sandwich. Workmen in dusty boots and glaring safety vests amble in for takeaway tea and a young couple scores the table by the window, the one that lets in the soft morning light that makes the Norman's Instagram grid such a draw. A group of women peer through the misting front window in curious unison, drawn by the action inside. Within 15 minutes all of the tables are occupied. People chat and clatter cutlery against the white china plates, the noise of breakfast mingling with the smells of bacon, hash browns and toasted bread. An idea that started as a pipe dream between two friends nearly a decade ago is being realised live on a Wednesday morning in October, one fry up at a time.
Norman’s is open for business.