The Corner House was designed to be the place for everyone and it seems to work – whereas customers want to entertain their kids while they have a coffee (and a proper conversation), work, meet someone over lunch, exercise or buy a gift. It has been open for 6 months and, so far, it has been very successful with very little marketing.
The ground floor is bright, nicely decorated and has a lot of really fine products to buy. The basement is dedicated to classes and families: separated entrance and parking for the buggies (with lockers available), tables with high chairs, children’s menu, separate playing areas for under twos and for older kids with beautiful toys (available for a small charge).
We had the chance to speak to Victoria Emmerson and Peter Narizzano, two of the three Co-Founders of The Corner House, with Annabel Fitzwilliams, and learn more about The Corner House’s concept.
Q. The Corner House offers many things. How best to describe it?
Victoria: “We have tried to find a word to describe it, but there is no word because it is quite new. So, we came up with the neighbourhood hub. It is a focal point for families or people of all ages for eating, drinking, playing or buying things from the shop. It is a meeting place for the neighbourhood. We offer simple food but just well done and at a reasonable price. We think the quality is important for everything that we do: the classes that we run, the toys in the playing area and stuff that we sell in the daily. It is a certain level of quality that we want to maintain and at the same time making it accessible for everybody. Everyone is so busy in their life we wanted to be a one-stop-shop to make it easy for people to eat, shop, drink or use nice things.”
Peter: “We also operate the Pavilion, a takeaway kiosk, on Brook Green Park. The Pavilion is by the tennis court and the playground. We had this opportunity in December 2016 and one of the main reasons we decided to do it was because it is a good way to be part of the community. Us operating that as a satellite operation ties in with what The Corner House is for the community.”
Q. Where does the idea come from?
Peter: “The idea came from co-founder Annabel, a mother of 3, and co-founder Victoria, a mother of 2 who is about to have twins. They were convinced that the area, which is family centric, needed an area for mothers and families to go and more generally a place for people to spend time in an informal environment. I was a private caterer and I was looking to open a small café somewhere, Annabel and Victoria got in touch with me and we elaborated from there, trying to respond to a need that we thought was down there. We have been opened for only 6 months and we feel it added to the fabric of the neighbourhood around here.”
Q. Who are your customers?
Victoria: “We have a bit of everything. A lot of locals and families for sure but it has also become a meeting place for people from other neighbourhoods. I talked with people the other day: one lived in Queen’s Park, the other one lived in Putney, so Brook Green was in the middle for them and The Corner House was the perfect place to meet: with a playing area for the children to play while the mothers caught up. We definitely get people coming from further away. We have also tourists because there are a few hotels across the street, so we have people from all over the world. We also have offices and boutique businesses so we get people who come for lunch and we also get people who work from home coming to work in the café. So, it is a place for everyone.”
Peter: « Although The Corner House is quite informal and relaxed; we have decided to offer an online booking service. As we are being used as the meeting point, we thought that will be useful to avoid the disappointment of people commuting to meet here if the place was full. We are not overrun with bookings because we are primarily a walk-in place but we find it practical to have that option to people.”
Q. Do you think that offering a play area for children, fitness classes and a shop bring more business to the café-restaurant?
Peter: “Definitely, the play area! That is our strong card I think. That is not something everyone has and the word has spread out amongst mothers in West London about what we are and what we have to offer. So that is certainly a big draw (…) There are other places providing play areas for children but what we try to do is to elevate it to a certain level so the children want to come but the parents want to come as well. Everything we offer, whether it is food, toys or products in the shop, is high quality.”
Victoria: ” In the winter or raining days, there are only a few place that you can go if you have got children that you want to entertain. At The Corner House, the children are being entertained while their parents have a proper conversation with their friends. But what is quite unique about the space is that the ground floor is really grown up and quite sophisticated. A lot of people will come directly to the ground floor to have lunch or coffee and do not even realise what is going on in the basement. There are quite separate areas. There is a rear entrance with a buggy parking at the back. So, the family traffic does not come through the main café. We were quite keen to not have buggies clashing with the space between table.
The studio has been going quite well and it is bringing people in. Usually, they come for a children class and then they stay to use the playing area or for a drink. But, we are hoping to encourage more people to come to classes after in September.”
What are your plans for the future?
Victoria: “ Having another site is something that we keen to look at. But we feel that we need quite a bit of work to do so in order to perfect it. Hopefully, some other neighbourhood, which has the same kind of population, might appreciate the same concept that we have done here with the Corner House. Rolling out other site is something that we definitely consider.
Otherwise, regarding our daily offer, we find that people are beginning to understand that there can come to buy a decent bottle of wine in the evening, cold meat or cheese to take away. So, we want it to be a place for locals to drop-in in the evening to buy fine food.”
What were the main challenges you had to face to open The Corner House?
Peter: “There has been quite a few. Starting with raising the money initially, but we did well thanks to the enterprise investment, which is a government initiative. Another challenge was to find a good size place for a café-restaurant. We went the long way around which was to convert an A1 shop into an A3 Café-Restaurant. It needed a lot of negotiations with the council and a lot of renovations.”
Victoria: “We were initially hoping to open in October 2016 and before Christmas. As The Corner House is “all in one”, it has been a learning curve for all of us.”
How important were social media when you launched The Corner House concept? How important are they now?
Victoria: “At the beginning, we were really lucky in that people in the area were desperate for something new and a bit different. There have been a lot of rumours locally about The Corner House opening. We did very little marketing and very little on social media before we opened and we were quite overrun at the beginning, which is good for a new business! But we did not want to push it too much before we were ready. We wanted to make sure that we offer people a good service. But I think it is really important and it is at the top of our list of priorities at the moment. We want to try to get it right and engage a bit more with social media because it is currently the best marketing. So, it is something that we will be using more and more to encourage new people to come and try us.”