Big Interview: Hasbean founder Stephen Leighton
It's been a year since the news broke that Ozone Coffee had acquired Hasbean Coffee, and it's been a busy year for Hasbean's founder Stephen Leighton, who heads up coffee sourcing across the group, including sites in New Zealand. Here he tells Beverage Business World how the deal is seeing both brands flourish.
Hasbean now works as its at home brand with Ozone its hospitality brand.
“The reason I decided to take the opportunity for Hasbean to join with Ozone was that I thought there would be more consolidation. I wanted to be in control of that and who I wanted to work with,” Leighton says. “It has given me an opportunity to double the amount of green coffee than I was buying, which means I have more opportunities to work with producers I want to work with.”
Ozone Coffee is set to open its second London roastery and eatery in East London’s Bethnal Green this month.The new site on Pritchard’s Road will be the fourth site for the group, joining its other roastery, coffee bar and eatery at Leonards Street in London and two sites in New Zealand in Auckland and New Plymouth. “The new site is based on the café roaster in Auckland in New Zealand which is absolutely phenomenal. I travel the world and it is one of the most impressive cafes I have ever been to,” he says.
The site will have a dedicated roaster as well as 100-seater café, along with a coffee lab, meeting rooms and its head office. “You can see the whole roasting while you are eating and drinking. While we are primarily a coffee company, secondly we are a hospitality company,” he says. “We want people to come and have an experience of the coffee but experience of the service and food too.”
While there is set to be a period of consolidation after the new venue opens he admits the ‘heart’ of Ozone remains in east London. While he doesn’t see the brand opening 20 sites in London there is more opportunity for the group with Leighton believing there is an opportunity for a branded Hasbean café. But all sites remain focused on ensuring the consumer gets that premium experience. “You cannot just have a café that does just great coffee on its own there has to have a food element to it. You can have the best café in the world or the best coffee shop in the world but if the service sucks they are never coming back,” he says. “If we want to grow and get better we have to become more accessible to the everyday consumer.”
Over the last year Leighton has been focusing on developing its roastery credentials, sustainability and relationships with producers. “I have given 20 years of my life to coffee but I love people more. What I have got with coffee is that relationship with the producers and being able to make them look like rock starts of the piece,” he says.
Hasbean and Ozone, he reveals, are the first two roasteries in the UK, to be biodynamically certified. This means there is a holistic approach to the farm and it is about looking after the environment and everything that lives in it. “This is something I am very passionate about. I travel the world and experience climate change. Climate change is cars, air travel, its energy but it is also the way that we farm things,” Leighton says. “Biodynamics has been proven to have a negative a carbon imprint.”
Another initiative that Leighton is passionate about is having impact assessments with some “meat on the bones” of their coffee suppliers. This will ask basic questions such as “Do they have a first aid kit on site?” or “Do they provide protective equipment?” The aim of the exercise is to show year-on -year continuous improvement and to provide help to their producers. “In two or three years we are going to have a collection of data that shows we are not just saying we are helping our producers to do a better job but we are proving they are doing a better job,” he says.
While each of its head roasters has a sustainability budget that they can use to help farms Leighton says one route to help producers is to increase the consumer price of coffee. “I want to be able to pay the producers lots more and small changes in consumer pricing can make a big difference,” he says. “As an industry we are quite nervous about raising prices. Nobody thinks twice about spending £25,000 on an espresso machine but paying an extra 20p a kilo on their coffee it’s the end of the world.”
While Hasbean and Ozone continue to thrive it is a journey that Leighton is going to continue. “I am so blessed to work with amazing partners at origin and also amazing partners in London and New Zealand,“ he says. “I just can’t believe where the journey has taken me.”
How did Steve Leighton get into the coffee market?
Leighton revealed that he previously worked as a prison officer for 10 years but coffee was always a keen interest. “I have always been passionate about coffee. At age seven I wanted a filter coffee maker for Christmas and decided I wanted to be a prison offer,” he says. But while working as a prison officer, he decided to start roasting his own coffee.
“I had no experience, no insider knowledge, no friends in coffee and I started roasting in the back of my garage at home,” he says. “I was buying green coffee from a website in the US and roasting it in a frying pan. I used to take the roasted coffee packages to the post office in my lunch hour.” Leighton eventually bought a home roaster machine, then bought a two Kilo roaster and expanded to have two employees. He finally “took the plunge” in 2008 handing in his notice and focusing on his coffee business.
One highlight he remembers was 2005 when he was sitting on a Cup of Excellence jury in Nicaragua. “I had only been on a plane with my parents to Spain and suddenly I was on a plane on my own going to Nicaragua,” he says. “I was sitting with some of my heroes in the coffee industry and I was just waiting for someone to say fraud.”
- Steve Leighton is a member of the European Coffee, Tea & Soft Drinks Expo steering panel.
- For more information on stands and sponsorship at European Coffee, Tea & Soft Drink Expo 2020, which will take place at London’s Olympia on 19 and 20 May, contact Sukhvir Hayre on +44 (0) 203 668 9809 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- For details of advertising opportunities. Get in touch withSukhvir@europeancoffeeexpo.com