Blue Mountain Vegan Cafe
& The Rock Steady Rhum Shack
A Stunnin’ View of The Blue Mountains of Jamaica. This Area of The Caribbean Produces World Class Coffee, Thanks To The Unique Climate, Rich Soil & Supreme Environmental Conditions.
We Talk To Cafe Society Dining Expert Melbourne Nugent. Ever Active. Ever Positive. He Has Built & Maintained An Esteemed Eatery In Dulwich Since 1993 & Vows To ‘Keep Safe & Carry On’ Until Corona Is Gone
Mel’s Beloved Old Bicycle Which He Used To Cycle To The Local Bank And Back (Before All The Local Banks Were Closed Down By The Banks Movin’ People To Online Bankin’). Stylish Hessian Bag of Ground Roasted Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee. Stylish Mel Models Designer Tie From A Collection By Design Graduate & Performance Coach Leonie Worrel (On Linkedin)
Melbourne’s Story From Kings Road To Vegan King
As A Restaurateur For 27 Years, In Dulwich, South East London, Mel Nugent Is Moving With The Times In Order To Keep His Customers Happy, Whilst Keepin Covid Compliant. In January 2020 He Re-Launched His Local Cafe Restaurant As A Vegan Venture, From Blue Mountain Cafe, To Blue Mountain Vegan.Responsibly Doing His Best To Fight The Force of The Global Covid Crisis, He Is Determined To Operate As Safely As Possible, Survive & Come Out The Other Side. Adapting To The Corona Virus Controls, He Is Focused On His Goal To Continue To Develop His Business Professionally & Look After Himself & His Family Personally. Here He Shares The Story of His Road To Success, Before The Corona Came.
He Began On The Kings Road, Working For The Royally Approved Grocers, The Partridge Family. They Own Partridges, In Chelsea. Still Operatin Today, They Are Very Popular With America Visitors & The Great & The Good Locally, As Well As Being Highly Involved With Various Charities. They Continue To Sell High End Products, Includin Speciality Teas & Coffees, Which Mel Was Very Much Involved In When He Managed The High End Store. He Was Appreciated There For His Dedication, Style & Know How. Nonetheless, He Had Ambitions of His Own. He Still Maintains Good Relations With The Partridge Family & Is Friends With Managing Director John Shephard Who Now Heads Up The Family Business.
With Ambitions Of A Business of His Own, Selling The High End Coffee of His Country of Origin, He Moved From Sloane Square To Spitalfields Sunday Market, At The Height of It’s Renovation & Regeneration, And Then From There To “Blue Mountain Cafe”, Now “Blue Mountain Vegan” In Dulwich. Having Started The Original Blue Mountain Cafe Back In 1993, Twenty Seven Years Later He’s Still Going Strong. Blue Mountain Vegan Now Serves & Sells Blue Mountain Coffee of Course & A Few Specialities of Their Own.
The Blue Mountains
It All Started For Mel After He Made His Was To England As A Nine Year Old Boy From Jamaica And The Home of The Famous Stunning Blue Mountain Range, Known For Producing Supreme Quality Coffee.
Blue Mountain Peak Is The Highest Point of The Naturally Beautiful Blue Mountains & Helpfully A Pathway Weaves Its Way Through The Mountains & Enables The Intrepid Traveler To Eventually Reach The Summit (If Duly Prepared & Feeling Sufficiently Fit). Once There The Awesome Sight of Cuba Awaits, Visible Just 130 Miles Away On A Clear Day. It Is A Scene of Stunning Natural Beauty. The Mountain Range Runs Across Four Separate Parishes,Namely St Andrew, St Mary, St Thomas & The Parish of Portland With Its Intriguingly Named Buff Bay.
Not Only Is This Jamaican Land Naturally Beautiful, It Is Also Naturally Bountiful. Only Coffee Grown Within In The Jamaican Blue Mountain Range (Which Is Determined By Certain Official Legal & Metric Criteria) Can Be Certified As Blue Mountain Coffee. Natural Geographical Ingredients Which Go Into Creating This Deep, Dark, Rich, Liquid Gold Include Awesome Altitude Levels, Sumptuous Soil Full of Magnificent Minerals, Saturated With Serious Sunlight On One Hand & Protected By Natural Shade On The Other.
Do You Have Any Affiliation With Blue Mountain Coffee – For Instance What Made You Call The First One Blue Mountain & Still Keep That Going To This Day?
I Choose The Name Because I Used To Manage A Food Hall In Sloane Street For 7-8 Years From The Early 80s To The Early 90s – Partridges – Now Off Duke Of York Square. They Took A Chance On Me. I Managed One Of Their Stores In Ludgate Circus & Blackfriars & They Asked Me To Oversee The Expansion Of Their Store At Sloane Street. Then They Offered Me The Job Of Developing The Product Lines.
They Had A Coffee, Tea, Fruit, Veg, Wine & Siprits Department. I Grew Up In Jamaica Until I Was 9. My Grandfather Grew Coffee For His Own Consumption. We Lived In A Area Where You Could Actually See The Blue Mountains. When I Was At Partridges They Had Bule Moutain Coffee That Was 5 Times More Expensive Than Some Other Coffees. Tt Was Considered One Of The Most In The World. Very Flavoursome. So When Started To Sell Coffee From A Market Stall In Spital Fields I Said To Myself I Am Going To Be The Blue Mountain Tea Rooms. We Sold Coffees, Teas, Cakes & Had A Few Chairs. Demand Grew & I Moved To North Cross Road.
A Partridge In A Pear Tree!
The British Family Run Business Provided A Firm Trainin Ground For Mel To Learn His Trade,
Both Front & Back of House.
Partridges Opened In 1972
On The Kings Road. It Received A Royal Warrant From The Queen 22 Years Later In 1994. In 2007 Mel’s Former Boss & Now Business Friend, Managing Director John Shepard Became President of The Royal Warrant Holders Association.
Mel Started Out As A Manager For Partridges, The Family Grocery Store, Kings Road, Chelsea.
Formerly of Sloane Square It Is Now Situated In Duke of York Square,
Also Home To The Saatchi Art Gallery.
I Just Took My Chances. I Was Living In East Dulwich. In The Recession Of The Early 90s Everyone Sold Up & Went. I Moved From Muswell To Dulwich Via Padding. I Simply Started Very Small Putting In Lots Of Hours. It Grew. I Took A Short Lease. Back Then You Could Rent A Place On A Short Licence As Opposed To A Lease And That’s What I Did. People Liked The Interior And They Liked What They Saw. Fortunately I Know How To Commuicate So It Worked. In 2003 We Closed Down For 12 Wks And Did An Extension. I Built A Following.
“We Bought Our First Place In 1993 – That Was Blue Mountain Café, In East Dulwich.“Mel Nugent Bar & Cafe Owner, Talkin To TheOrator.Press, About Startin Out.
That Cafe Stood The Test of Time In Dulwich For Over A Decade. In 14 Years It Did Very Well. It Was Very Popular & The Locals Loved It. Conveniently & Neatly Perched On A Corner of North Cross Road, East Dulwich SE22.
Then In 2017 Mel Decided To Make A Change To The Well Established Favourite. Modeled On One of His Other Establishments, The Rock Steady Rhum Shack Bar, In Gypsy Hill, Established In 2007, He Decided To Change The Cafe To Another Rhum Bar.
The Original Gypsy Hill Bar Is Still There Today & Operating Within The New Health & Safety Measures of The Corona Age. Practically This Means Its Takeaway Service Is The Main Operation Of The Restaurant Right Now, As Social Distancin & The New Early Closing Time of 10.00 pm Imposed By The Government Sees More People Opting To Just Stay In. It Is Ordinarily A Stylish Combination of Caribbean Cafe, Bar & Restaurant In Normal Full Operational Capacity.
He Thought The Dulwich Venue Might Do Even Better If It Converted To The Rhum Shack Model As Well. However The Customers Decided They Preferred The Cafe Culture Compared To The Bar.
“I Can’t Say Why The Conversion of The Cafe From Coffee Shop To Rhum Shop Did Not Take Off In Dulwich. We Tried Turning It Into A Rhum Kitchen In 2017 But It Did Not Take Off So We Have Now Turned It Back To A Café – But We Have Gone Vegan. We Started Setting Up Blue Mountain Vegan Cafe In January 2020.”
“Then Came The Corona Virus & We’ve Faced Delays Ever Since Up Till Now.”Mel Nugent, Bar & Cafe Owner Speakin To TheOrator.Press About The Impact of Corona
How Do You Manage To Stay Positive? I Have Young Children. I Have To Stay Positive. You Have To Stay Positive Otherwise You Will Just Stop. You Have To Keep Going. Keep Trying. Keep Learning. Mel Explains He Has Three Young Children Of School Age Who Live With Their Mother In Brighton. They Are Home Schooled & Doing Fine. He Is Now Married To A New Lady, They Have Five Grown Up Children Between Them & Live In South East London.
How Are The Kids Coping With All The Upheavels Or Is It All A Bit More Calm In Brighton? – The Kids Are Great. Again Technology. We Facetime. There Was A Time We Could Visit Up Until March. But From March We Facetimed. Initially I Was In The Vulnerable Category Being Over 60.
Once It Was Lifted I Went There Up Until Now. We Can’t Again, With This New Tier System Where The Different Tiers Cannot Mix. They Are Doing Fine. They Are Home Schooled.
Running A New Business In The Age of Corona
It Is Amazingly Positive & Brave To Start A New Business In A Pandemic. Very Positive. How Do You Do That. Safely. Positively?
We Started Blue Mountain Vegan 2 Weeks Ago On Wednesday October 7 2020. Previously It Was The Blue Mountain Café Which I Started Originally In 1993 & Has Been Here For Twenty Seven Years.
We Began Setting Up Blue Mountain Vegan In January Of This Year But The Corona Virus Outbreak Occurred & We Had To Shut Down & Deal With Delays Till Now.
Prior To Friday October 16th Customers Could Make A Booking Of Up To 6 People Maximum With Friends, Family & People From Other Households.
From October Friday 16th The Further Restrictions Meant Customers Could Only Eat Out With Members Of Their Own Households Or Members Of Their Support Bubble (Up To 6 Maximum), So The Weekend Restaurant Trade Of Saturday October 17th Was Poor & Our Business Suffered. We Will Now Only Open From Thurs Evening Through To Saturday Evenings.
Why Did The Cafe Go Vegan In Dulwich, Are You Actually Vegan Yourself?
I Had The Idea For Some Time. I’m 99% Vegan. I Occasionally Have A Weakness For Cheese. I Have Been Vegetarian For Roughly 14/15 Years. I Stopped Eating Meat After Going To A Chicken Factory As A Buyer. It Was Horrendous. I No Longer Eat Meat. I Found I Didn’t Really Miss Meat. My Wife Was Already A Vegetarian & I Came To Learn A Lot About The Impact Of Mass Producing Meat On The Climate, Land, Eco System. Now I No Longer Have Milk, Yogurt, Cream Etc. I Used To Eat Fish But No Longer Eat Fish Anymore Either. But I Must Admit I Do Have The Occasional Piece Of Cheese.
Have You Ever Been To Eats Of Eden? – It’s Pretty Amazing. Yes I Have Been. It Is Good. It’s A Great Business Model & Great Food.
I Believe There’s Two. One In Clapham & One In Brixton. Which One Did You Go To? Brixton
Do You See A Conflict Of Interest With The Rock Steady Rum Kitchen Being Traditional Caribbean Restaurant (Which Of Course Includes Jerk Chicken & Curry Goat Dishes) & Dulwich Being Vegan? We Are Running Two Different Businesses. The Chef In Gypsy Hill Is Not Vegan. The Chef In Dulwich Is Vegan. It’s About Being Able To Offer Good Vegan Choices In Dulwich. Other People Still Eat Meat.
So It’s A Bit Like Sainsburys Or Waitrose Having A Vegetarian Or Vegan Sections In Their Businesses? Yes. I Try To Educate People In A Soft Way. You Can Make Great Vegan Dishes Using The Caribbean Model. For Example, Ackee & Saltfish. You Could Have Some Ackee & Kalaloo & Season It Up Really Nice. Then We Can Season Up Some Jack Fruit, Aubergine Or Heart Of Palm To Create A Nice Tasty Texture In The Style Of A Fish Fritter.
Is It Still Hard Sourcing Vegan Food ? In Fact Is It Hard Sourcing Any Food – I Have Heard Reports Of A Food Shortage On The Way – Which Is Already Happening (In Korea For Instance) To A Horrific Degree? It Hasn’t Impacted Us Yet. Obviously People Haven’t Been Manufacturing With The Same Intensity & Distribution, But There Are Always Seasonal Variations. It’s Basic Supply & Demand. Sometimes Somethings Are Ridiculously Expensive. But Again, With Vegan Food The Raw Material Is Vegetables & We’ve Had No Problems There.
Blue Mountain Vegan Has Delicious Vegan Food & Drink To Offer. A Takeaway Only Service Is Available Throughout Lockdown.
TakeAway Platforms Coin In Commission Durin’ Corona
We Have Run The Take Away Service Quite Consistently. Although It Has Been Slow It Did Keep The Team In Work. We Still Need The Bar To Give Us The Up Tick. Deliveroo & Just Eat Take A Big Chunk In Commission On The Takeaway Platforms. Due To The Situation More People Are On The Take Away Platforms, So There Is So Much More Competition As Customers Are Seeing More Choices. Customers & Restaurants Are Being Driven Into One Area So It’s Tougher. The Platform Providers Make Sure They Get Their Sizeable Commission. So We Still Have Alot of Ground To Make Up For The Lack of On Site Dinin While Corona Is On Goin.
The Government Gave Restaurantuers, Pubs & Bars A Grant & Waved Business Rate Until March Next Year. We Kept The Kitchen Open For Take Aways, But Not The Restaurant, So We Had To Furlow Waiting Staff. But The Government Stops That At The End Of October.Landlords Still Want Their Rent, Plus There’s The Electricity, Gas Etc.We’ve Not Been Back To Normal Levels Since Lockdown. Whatever The Ultimate Outcome Of This Crisis, Everyone Has Lost Ground.
Jamaica Travel Checks Helpin To Keep Corona In Check
You Mentioned You Were In Jamaica Recently Seeing How Others Do It, Having Traveled Safely Before Tiers’ For Fears of Covid‘ . At What Stage Of The Lockdown or Lifting of The Lockdown Were You Over There? I Was In Jamaica Due To A Family Funeral & It Turned Out I Was Away For Six Weeks In Total. Two Were In Quarantine On Arrival Abroad (In The Home Of Our Host) & Two Weeks On Arrival Coming Back To The Uk (In Our Own Home). We Flew Out 3rd August.
The Quarantine Protocols In Jamaica Were So Much More Regimented In The UK.
We Had No Communication Or Contact From Anyone In The Uk. We Filled In An Online Form Before We Travelled But That Was It. I Have Seen Other British Travellers On TV News Reports Say Similar Things.
Baby Faced Mel – He Took A Chance & Built A Cafe Society Business Back In The 90s (Photo From His Private Collection). Cool Cat Mel. All Grown Up. Iron Like A Lion In Zion & Still As Positive & Adaptable As Ever. Mel Suited & Booted Silver Fox (Photo By Professional Photographer Oliver Tafforin, Dulwich South East London http://www.oliviertafforin.com).
The Isle of Wight, Osborne House, The Caledon & Dressin Up
So You Recently Went To The Isle Of Wight In October For Your Wife’s Birthday, How Different (If At All) Was The Attitude To Restrictions There Compared To London & What Was The Atmosphere Like Where You Stayed?
People Were Really Compliant. Masks. Test & Tracing. Very Focused. They Have Similar Systems But Were Much More Compliant Somehow. They Are An Island. They Were Taking It Seriously. But Still Busy & Going About Their Business. I Believe They Are In The Lower Tier.
Maybe That’s Why They’re In The Lower Tier? Maybe.
Was It Busy? It Was Very Busy Actually. People Were Around & About. The Place We Stayed In Was A Really Nice B & B. A Place Called The Caledon. There Was No Need To See Anyone. We Booked Online. Keys Were Left For Us To Collect. We Ordered Breakfast Online. Someone Brought Trays To The Door & Left. The Whole System Relied Heavily On Technology. The B&B Was Fairly Empty At The Time. We Went On A Sunday & Came Back Tuesday. It Was Good.
How Was The Food? The Food Was Fine. It Was Easy To Go Vegan. We Did Not Use The Dining Room. We Just Had Breakfast There. Then We Drove To Colwell Bay Which Is A Seafront Walkway.
Were You Able To Do Any Site Seeing Or Leisure Activities? We Went To Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s Seaside Palace. We Had To Book In Advance. It Is Run By English Heritage. They Only Showed Some Parts Of The House. There Were Lots Of Explanatory Notes About The Place & Lots Of Signage To Move Around. It Was Well Organised
I Share That I Had Seen A Lady From The English Heritage Trust On The News Recently Explaining The New Systems That Had To Be Created In Order To Get Their Various Properties Covid Compliant. She Said It Was “Very Challenging” Which Seemed Like An Understatement Given The Amount Of Property In Their Portfolio. I Was Wonderin’ If She Was Keepin’ It Real or Just Bein Polite (… I Feel An Interview Request Comin’ On).
The Isle of Wight Is Just A Short Distance Outside London. Mel Is One of The Coolest Guys On The Planet. So If It’s Good Enough For Him & His Good Lady, And Royalty, It’s Good Enough For Us. The Very Popular Bar & Restaurant ‘The Hut’ Hosted Chris Evans’ Virgin Radio Breakfast Show In 2019 (Raising £3m For BBC Children In Need & Sendin’ The Profile of This Al Fresco Retreat Sky High). It Is Based Alongside A Lovely Seaside Walkway, Perfect For A Refreshin’ Leisurely Stroll, After A Little Indulgence To Lift The Soul (March – October). The Couple Went In October & Stayed At The Caledon Guest House. The Area Hosts The Sailing Regatta Cowes Week And A Famous Annual Music Festival. Osborne House, The Palatial Seaside Staycation Residence of Queen Victoria Adds A Touch of Majestic Magic, Mystery And Black History.
How Did You Get All The Signage For Flow Control In Your Own Place (In Terms Of Customer Movement Around The Establishment) – Is There A Special Representative That Gets In Touch? No. Again It’s All Online. The Government’s Website.
Was It Hard Work Or Expensive? Do You Get An Allowance For That? No. It’s Fairly Straightforward. The Government Website Has The Details. Signage Can Be Downloaded & Laminated For Instance. It Can Be Costly Though As You Have To Pay For Everything Yourself. The Perspex Screens For Example.
How Do You Think It Affects People’s Inclination To Dress Up, If They Have To Wear A Mask? Did You Dress Up Yourself In The Isle Of Wight? We Did Not Dress Up. The Effort Of Going Out Is Not So Great Now. Which Is Why Takeout Is Doing So Well. It’s More Functional Than Enjoyable.
How Does It Affect The Atmosphere Or Spirit Of The Establishment For Staff & For Customers Both – At Gypsy Hill & Dulwich – Bearing In Mind They Are Quite Different Establishments? Hospitality Is Social So To Be Doing It Behind Masks & Visors Is Frustrating. Visors & Masks Make Communication Difficult. People Don’t Hear Each Other Properly.
Black Lives Matter & The George Floyd Murder
The Black Lives Matter Movement Marched In Central London Over The Weekend Of June 6 & 7 2020. They Also Marched Locally Through Crystal Palace & Gyspy Hill, Where Rock Steady Rhum Lounge Is Of Course. Did You See The Protesters Go By Your Place At All? No We Were Still In Lockdown Then So The Restaurant Was Closed.
Where You Shocked When You Heard About The George Floyd Police Murder? I Got A Feed Come Through On My Phone. It Was A Tuesday Morning. (George Had Been Killed The Previous Day – May 25 2020.) I Opened It I Watched It Twice Back To Back. I Could Not Believe What I Was Seein’. I Forwarded To All The People Who Were In My Whatsapp Group. It Bought Tears To My Eyes. I Was So Emotional I Could Not Stop Thinking About It. This Stood Out. What Stood Out Was One Of The People Filming Held The Camera On The Policeman. There Was A Look In This Man’s Eyes That Was Just Evil. I Kept Thinkin Why Did His Fellow Officers Not Go Up To Him And Say Get Off Him. And I Just Thought The Country Has Not Moved On. It Was A Policy!
It’s 27 Years Since 1993 When You Opened The Café In Dulwich – Do You See A Difference Between Race Relations Then & Race Relations Now In The Uk – Especially In Terms Of The Powers That Be Such As The Media, The Money Men In Business Funding, Those In Positions Of Power – In Relation To The Calls For Social Justice Reforms To Make Things More Fair In Society For Black People? There’s Not Been A Great Deal Of Change. In Parallel With American We Are Only Here By Accident. In Reality The Motivation Is The Same. Windrush For Instance. When The First Wave of People Came Here The Country Was Not Prepared For Them. The Initial Plan Was To Use Them And Get Them To Go Back. In The 1980s They Offered Citizenship. Some People Took It And Some Didn’t.
Business Fundin’ & Finance
” I Have Young Children. I Have To Stay Positive. You Have To Stay Positive Otherwise You Will Just Stop. You Have To Keep Goin’. Keep Tryin’. Keep Learnin’.”
Mel Nugent, Talkin To TheOrator.Press About Positivity, October 2020
I Understand At One Stage You Had An Arts And Crafts Shop. What Made You Want To Go From Cafes To Crafts And Why Do You Think It Did Not Do As Well Your Other Ventures? We’ve Had A Number of Enterprises Along The Way. Our Blue Mountain Cafe In Sydenham Did Well. The Lease Ran Out 2006. Gypsy Hill Is Great. Dulwich Too. We Had A Cafe In West Norwood 95-99 And In 2000 We Added A Gift Shop Called Rhythm, That Lease Also Ended 2006. We Also Had A Place In Forest Hill And Lewisham.
“Rhythm Was A Cultural Gift Shop – By Which I Mean One That Sold Cultural Cards & Gifts. The Idea Was To Sell Unique Ceramics And Such. Artists Could Display Work On The Walls And We Would Take A Percentage When Their Work Sold. We Added Furniture, Recycled Items, Interesting Design Led Pieces, Greetin’ Cards. We Operated In Association With Goldsmiths College And Camberwell Collage Of Art And Such, With Artists Welcome To Exhibit Their Art Within Our Business Premises, For A Percentage of Sales For Instance. “
“Lewisham Library Invited A Social Enterprise Tender For The Cafe Based There Years Ago. It Took About A Year To Get Through The Whole Process And After All That It Was Disapppointin’. There Were Issues Around A Lack of Security At The Library And Street Drinkers Comin In & Harrassin’ The Staff. The Library Toilets Broke Down. There Was A Lack of Support. We Closed Down There Because of The Surroundin’ Circumstances. It Has Not Always Been Easy.”
“If Financial Systems Don’t Support Black Businesses It’s Even Harder To Succeed. When You Operate Out Of Cash Flow, Without A Business Loan For Example, If You Cannot Get Funds From A Lendin’ Institution, It Has To Take Off Pretty Quickly, So That The Business Can Maintain That Cash Flow.”
[I Mention An Article I Saw Recently In The Telegraph About New Fundin’ Initiatives Which May Make It A Little Easier For The Next Generation. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education-and-careers/2020/10/20/bridging-gap-funding-black-founders2/%5D
“You Don’t Have To See The Whole Staircase, Just Take The First Step.”
Dr. Martin Luther King
New Black Business Initiatives Are Seein’ Greater Support For Black Business Founders & Entrepreneurs, In This New Age of Corporate Consciousness And Social Justice Reform. These Include Strategic Networkin, Increased Membership To Business Chambers, Collaborations Between Established And Innovative Organisations (Includin’ Social Media Companies Makin’ Various New Alliances) And Angel Investors. African Entrepreneur & Angel Investor Andy Davis Is At The Forefront of This Progress.
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