Features

Tottenham Hale’s hidden gem of a café

The plant-based, LGBTQ+ positive, community coffee shop and restaurant has been open for just over a year, writes Paddy Knowles

What’s your favourite coffee shop in Tottenham? Pret? Costa? N15 Cafe? Markfield Park Cafe?

How about Comewell’s, the blink-and-you-miss-it café nestled in Antill Road by Tottenham Hale Retail Park?

The plant-based, LGBTQ+ positive, community coffee shop and restaurant has been open for just over a year. I sat down with the owner, and eponymous name provider, Comewell, to talk about his journey into the catering industry.

When Comewell first came to the UK it was supposed to be a brief holiday from a tiring life toiling in an Italian fashion industry that never truly valued his efforts. But, while he admits “it wasn’t the plan to open a café”, he fell into the world of hospitality almost immediately, albeit with something of a crash landing.

He describes the experience, laughing throughout: “I booked another week in the hostel and in that week I found a job and started working as a bartender […] but I’d never worked as a bartender before.

“I was so bad that after like three weeks they fired me. People used to ask me for a gin and tonic and I’d give them vodka lemonade because I knew nothing about cocktails, I swear!”

Twelve-hour days grilling chicken at Nandos followed, a period that Comewell describes with a smile as being “crazy” while acknowledging its lessons on work ethic and staff management.

However, it’s a perspective-shaking interpersonal relationship that sowed the seed which eventually flowered into Comewell’s (the cafe) today.

“After that I had my first relationship which was detrimental for me because it was a tricky relationship that made me so insecure. I lost a lot of self-worth, I wasn’t liking myself anymore,” he explains.

His antidote to the intoxicating influence of this relationship? Cooking. The sort of cooking his Jamaican mother would do back home, the community cooking spirit that was beloved to him in Italy; Caribbean patties as the centrepiece of the dining table as conversation and connection flowed around them.

He describes cooking as “making something with love”, adding: “And I wanted people to feel that because that’s the thing I was lacking in the relationship.”

Originating as accompaniments for parties and later becoming the catering for his photography exhibitions, his Italo-Jamaican fusions always proved a hit.

Chance encounters at these events flourished into strong community links and soon Comewell was working in the kitchen for Loop, the previous occupants of his current site.

Personal issues behind the scenes caused the café to close, but his personable manner led to the space surprisingly being offered to him. He laughs about his initial reaction to the proposal: “At the beginning, I was like: ‘What the f***?! No!’ ”

However, one of those community links, Simon, who runs Idris Barbering on Markfield Road, persuaded him to take the risk, giving life to the café that you see today.

Reflecting on the coffee industry of which he is now a part; how it interacts with, and is shaped by, the modern world, Comewell laments the lack of human connection, particularly driven by the superficiality of social media.

So, he’s tried to create something true to his original inspiration, a space for community and connection which stands aside from London’s monolithic culture of ‘grab and go’ coffees. 

He explains: “For me it’s important that I still keep this sense of community, love, self-worth through this project.

“I realised that, not in all, but in many restaurants it’s how they make you feel, you know, the food can be good, but they make you feel good.”

He jokes about people thinking he’s being “fake polite” when he greets them in his usual, enthusiastic manner: “I’m just being me, honestly!” he exclaims.

Meanwhile there’s an awareness that, in the face of overwhelming local competition, his desire to create a space focused on building connections – be it through the close seating arrangement or regular events encouraging conversation with strangers – may in fact be a benefit to the business in the long run.

He says: “And it’s also what I’ve tried to promote is maybe the fact of being unique. What I’m offering I think is something different compared to Starbucks, Pret and the other chains.

“Because, one, I can’t change you, if you want to go to Costa or Pret, it’s up to you. I can’t do anything about that.

“But also, what am I benefitting by competing with these big companies?

“So for me, I’m like: ‘It is what it is, let’s see how it goes and focus on this plan: Try to make it more different.’

“So this is what I’m working on, people come here not only to eat, but also to feel something.”

Comewell’s Cafe can be found in Antill Road, Tottenahm N15 4QT. For updates on upcoming events:
Visit
comewell.co.uk
Instagram Comewells


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