The Bean at Twenty
How The Bean reached 20
Coffee shops and Beeston have become synonymous over the last few years. It’s become a caffeine-lovers hotspot, and although some grumps seem to think this is a negative most Beestonians recognise it as a sign of a strong town: if enough local, largely-independent businesses can survive on the disposable incomes of residents, we’re doing alright.
Hipsters and their caffeinated contemporaries would be shocked to know that just a mere 20 years ago, a cappuccino was as exotic as it’d get and the default coffee was a cup of bitter Nescafe. The café that ushered in this new era back in the late nineties was The Bean. To mark 20 years of excellence, we talked to owner Alex Bitsios-Esposito to find 20 facts about the shop that started it all…
- The Bean was set up by Silvana, a Canadian Italian who moved here in the nineties. Her son Alex explains “There just wasn’t anywhere in the town to get a decent coffee. Italy and Canada both have developed coffee-cultures, so she took a gamble.”
- Beestonians were initially cautious, but curious. “The idea of a coffee shop being a social meeting point wasn’t really there, and took time.”
- Alex was just 8 years old when he started helping out. “I’d take orders, do bits and bobs. I could barely reach the till.”
- It swiftly gained accolades: in 1999 it won a national survey of coffee shops.
- It was unprecedented in carefully selecting its coffee: “Mass produced coffees tasted burnt – we wanted to show off the vast range of flavours and subtleties.”
- Back then, it was a Cyber Coffee (readers under 30: ask an older person). People would queue to pay £3.50 per hour to tediously wait for a message board about Star Trek to refresh on Windows 98, and sip on their Latte thinking they were living in the future.
- “We still get people a bit confused, and asking what the wiffy is and why its free.”
- As it grew in popularity, more coffee shops opened up to cope with the demand. We currently have around 12, mostly independent. Do Beestonians sleep?
- Alex is a fan of these other coffee shops. “They’ve created a healthy competition, keeping us on our toes to innovate.”
- Handily for our international issue, they’ve always been one of the most global of employers. Alex: “Spanish, Turkish, German, Czech, Chinese, Ghanaian, Australian, Vietnamese, Latvian, New Zealanders…and many more.”
- Many people met their partners here, not least Alex, whose wife used The Bean as a place to write a book. Staff have married other staff; customers have married other customers.”
- He’d be able to retire if he’d taken a commission on all these couplings…
- They became the first café in Beeston to be part of the Suspended Coffee programme: customers can buy a coffee for those less fortunate than them, and those who can’t afford a drink for whatever reasons can receive one, no questions asked. Nice.
- It has a city-centre sister shop, Cartwheel: “It’s less of a community place, being located there, a different buzz.”
- One fan is the superstar author Jon McGregor, who voted it one of his cultural highlights in an article for the Guardian.
- Quite cheeky considering he’d just won the Costa award, if you think about it.
- Other famous Cartwheelers are Dylan Moran and Ronan Keating: “he had a juice.”
- The Bean, and many other cafes and pubs, seems to be the de facto office of The Beestonian. If you’re reading this in one of those places and see a harassed looking chap bashing away at his keyboard while muttering to himself, you’re probably watching the next issue in progress.
- Alex took over as owner in 2018. With two young kids and one on the way, is this a start of a dynasty in Beeston? “When they can reach the till.”
- Favourite drink? “Same as my mum: straight espresso.” When I look disappointed, he replies, “It’s a perennial classic”. As The Bean moves into its third decade hepping-up Beeston, it’s a description that serves that corner of Stoney Street well.