It’s a slightly incongruous offer: a tiny coffee shack in an underused public square – yet Grindsmith is pulling in the punters.
Grindsmith feels like it’s straight outta the Northern Quarter, an artisan coffee shack whose baristas know their single origin from their six-hour cold brewed cups. Housed in a bespoke-designed eco pod, its unfinished wood interior marks it out as the sort of place that meets the aesthetic demands of a caffeinated connoisseur – and yet it is not in the hipster heartland of the Northern Quarter at all. It’s in Salford.
In fact, Grindsmith can be found in a little-known public square that straddles the border between two cities. Greengate Square sits on one side of the River Irwell, in Salford, while Manchester sits on the other. A mere river’s breadth from the hustle of Manchester city centre, this little square is curiously quiet – and almost empty save for a coffee shop so small that it can only seat eight people. It is a location that feels all the quieter for the fact that it’s also home to a couple of resident herons: drink your coffee by the river and you’ll see them there, patiently waiting to catch the fish that swim the Irwell’s murky depths.
“The old cliché of “build it and they will come’ has literally happened right here.”
So why choose such an out of the way location? “We previously ran a mobile coffee van in Manchester and were approached by Salford Council to trade there,” say Luke Tomlinson and Pete Gibson. “After seeing the site we decided it needed something a little more permanent – it took eight months of meetings but persistence and vigour prevailed, and the old cliché of ‘build it and they will come’ has literally happened right here.”
Tomlinson and Gibson are behind Grindsmith, a company they reckon is all about “making handcrafted coffee accessible to the great people of Manchester.” It opened in February after the pair raised the £10,000 needed to launch it via Kickstarter, their success partly due to their healthy social media presence. “We opened a Twitter account a year before we opened to document our story,” they say. “By the time we launched, a thousand followers had come along for the ride – that gave us enough time to find our feet and build up momentum during the first few wintery months.”
That momentum has continued – at least, every time we’ve been to Grindsmith (even on a windswept Wednesday morning) it’s been busy. “We’ve had an overwhelming response from the public and also huge support from Manchester’s current independent coffee houses,” say the pair. “Seven months on and we have taken on three baristas.” It’s little surprise – the coffee is excellent, with an emphasis on the independent and regional. The Manchester-based Coffee Circle is the main supplier, for example, while single origin coffees from independent roasters are showcased too – you can drink a cup of North Star, which hails from Leeds or Nude Espresso from London. And there is cake, too: “made by Steph, AKA ‘Time for Cake’, who supplies Coffee Fix in Gatley,” say Tomlinson and Gibson.
All of this comes minutely packaged in the smallest brew bar we’ve ever been inside, in a public square that is slowly growing its profile – and its neighbours. Greengate Square is part a development scheme that includes new office and creative space, and the redevelopment of what used to be Manchester Exchange railway station. Grindsmith will no doubt start serving incoming residents – and even if that development falls through, Tomlinson and Gibson are expanding regardless. “Since June we set up a mobile operation to cater for even more remote locations and events,” they say. “It has most recently been occupying a dormant space within the Great Northern Warehouse.” So even if you really can’t make it out as far as Salford, Grindsmith’s brews are still within easy (Mancunian) reach.