News: Single Mother Opens Community Cafe During Lockdown for Local Families

Sophia, a graduate of the Foundation's partner, Well Grounded, has set up ‘Carmen’s Family Coffee House’ in Poplar, East London.

Sophia is a graduate of Well Gounded, a Social Enterprise specialising in training and supporting unemployed adults into work in the coffee industry. This achievement marks Sophia's long-term ambition to create a family-orientated, community-based coffee shop, with a name paying tribute to her late mother.

In 2018, Sophia saw a poster for Free Specialty Barista training with social enterprise Well Grounded in Poplar and took the jump into the unknown. She had always wanted to open a cafe to provide a safe and welcoming space for parents, having felt isolated when her daughter was young. In 2018, Sophia wouldn’t have dreamt that with the support of Well Grounded, her mentor, and her dad, she would be opening a shop during a global pandemic.

Her exposure to the coffee world began as a child: “My dad is a builder, so as a kid I grew up in and out of cafes when he was working.” But beyond this, her knowledge of the scene was no more than a love for a hot, caffeinated drink shared with friends and a dream to set up a child-friendly coffee shop. Sophia’s baby, Carmen, was born around the same time her mother - also Carmen - sadly passed away. Sophia had acted as her mother’s carer from a young age, and would continue to do so for the next 15 years - this love and their close bond is channeled into the shop. The name of the shop is not the only tribute to her late mother, her legacy lives on in mountain-scapes painted on the walls, the Ecuadorian menu currently under construction and the potential for some Ecuadorian guest coffee-beans in the future.

The loss of her mother was a motivating factor for Sophia to set up the shop in the first place, and the mentality of ‘doing it for her’ keeps her going through the toughest times. Having got the keys to the shop in August and opening properly in December, the road hasn’t been easy throughout the pandemic, but Sophia is determined to make it work with the support of her local community. Her main aim is to have people in the shop, using it as it is intended to be used. People seated, eating, drinking great coffee and their children playing in a safe and friendly environment is the reason Carmen’s Family Coffee House was founded, so to achieve that after the pandemic is the goal for now.

The vision behind the shop is something Sophia has had since she had her daughter: an inviting, community, child-friendly coffee shop to help get people out of the house and into a space where they are welcome. With a buggy park, play area, toy store, and baby-friendly menu, Carmen’s is well set up for its purpose. Sophia’s special understanding of being a single-mother and not feeling welcome in other shops with a small child has enabled her - with the help of her dad’s building skills - to curate a perfect environment to match her vision: “The real reason that I set it up was to get people out of their houses in the area and to have a different sort of setting to go to. For me, I went through a point when I had Carmen where I was isolated in the house too scared to go out, all the local places that I’d go to were so uninviting and unwelcoming - what’s the point in going out? That’s where it came from.”

Her time at Well Grounded is cited by Sophia as a massive factor in her gaining the confidence to follow through with her goal. Well Grounded supported Sophia through a 12-week specialty coffee training, mentorship, and work placement programme, making sure she had the technical skills and confidence to follow her ambitions: “Well Grounded really elevated me to another level that probably would have taken me years to get to….I’m so grateful to Well Grounded because I don’t think I would have had the guts to have gone further if it wasn’t for the course.” Well Grounded organised a work placement and subsequent job as a Barista at Notes Coffee Shop in Canary Wharf. It was here she met Rob Robinson, Notes co-founder, who alongside Well Grounded, continues to be key in supporting Sophia.

Hopefully, the pandemic restrictions will ease in the coming months and Carmen’s Family Coffee House can open fully, providing the setting for local parents, children, and other coffee lovers as intended. But for now, Sophia is serving takeaways and looking forward to the belated grand-opening of Carmen’s Family Coffee House. In the meantime, if you want to support Sophia, follow her Instagram or pop in for a takeaway. If you are looking for work and need some support during this time, get in touch with Well Grounded, who offer a free training, mental health and wellbeing programme, moving their trainees into work across their network of 100s of employers.

Sophia is one of many Graduates from the Well Grounded programme that have gone on to open their own business or move into work in coffee. Want to support them? Well Grounded have just launched a series of fun, interactive, virtual coffee courses for you to enjoy with your colleagues and friends. All classes are run virtually by their Graduates, with every penny going towards their mission of providing meaningful employment to people facing barriers to work.

For more information about Carmen’s, visit @Carmensfamilycoffeehouse on Instagram.