Jon and Mark came and spoke to us about their coffee shop in Barton Arcade, and told us how they came to serve the finest coffee in Manchester.


Jon Wilkin & Mark Flanagan – Pot Kettle Black Transcript

What’s your name, position and where do you work?

Jon: My name’s Jon Wilkin and I’m the owner of Pot Kettle Black and this is

Mark: Mark Flanagan, the other owner of Pot Kettle Black coffee shop in Barton Arcade, Manchester

Describe your business in one sentence.

Jon: Pot Kettle Black is a speciality coffee shop serving the finest quality coffee in Manchester.

What separates you from the competition?

Mark: The quality of our produce. We think we sell the best coffee in Manchester and the setting – we have a great shop there. We can have business meetings, we have shoppers on a weekend, people in for just a drink – could be a wine, a beer, coffee, tea. We suit pretty much any need in our coffee shop.  

What have been the highlights of your company so far?

Jon: I think the highlight of our company is having a concept and developing a bit of a plan and then seeing that come to fruition and opening the doors on the first day, not knowing if anybody’s going to walk through those doors despite all the planning what you’ve done and then on that first day to see customers walk out smiling and then off the back of that to build the repeat customers. We have some fantastically loyal customers who are with us everyday and being part of someone’s lifestyle is probably the greatest thing.

Mark: We really get a buzz off people enjoying it. If we see people or hear people talking about our business, we get a bit of a buzz off it because in the first couple of weeks it was all our friends and family and we knew everybody before they came in there. Now we’ve got people coming from all over and people seem to like it.  

What qualities are needed to succeed in your industry?

Mark: I think in business full stop you need to be quite thick-skinned. We had a lot of people telling us not to do it or ‘why would you want to do that?’ or ‘what experience do you have?’. I think if you’ve got thick skin and confidence in your concept and you’ve got a hard-working mentality then you’ll go a long way. I think that as we’re not coffee connoisseurs, we just kind of had a decent concept and worked hard at it. We’ve taken a lot of advice and that seems to have worked for us.  

Why do new businesses choose Manchester?

Mark: I personally think that Manchester’s at the start of a massive boom. There’s talk in the press of being the Northern Powerhouse and, you know, the last few years since we’ve been working in Manchester we’ve seen food and drink, the arts, load of things, just sort of explode in Manchester. I think it’s only going to get bigger and better. And I love being from Manchester, from Oldham just outside, but I’m very proud to be from Manchester. What we’re well known for is, you know, great music, great football teams, great sport in general and just really buzzing place to be part of and I think it’s just getting bigger and better.

Jon: If you look at the city skyline it’s full of cranes, there’s activity going on, the traffic’s a nightmare which for me is a good sign. People are buzzing to get into the city. In food and drink – just in food and drink terms – just like Mark said, the city since we came in has just completely changed. If we talk about our location and isolation, the Barton Arcade is a relatively redundant, beautifully appointed Victorian arcade and since we’ve been there, there’s three or four big businesses, a Spanish restaurant from Liverpool, one burger restaurant has gone into that arcade, there’s a lot of vibrant new brands and I think one of the differences we’ve got in Manchester is it feels like the home of independent brands, a lot of independent brands thrive and exist in the city and that’s why as businessmen, we’re delighted to have a business in Manchester.

Who are some local companies you would recommend?

Mark:  I think all the speciality coffee shops in Manchester are great places there’s obviously a lot of the big corporate chains throughout the country there’s Starbucks, Costa, Cafe Nero are the big three but I think there’s a big rise in independents and speciality coffee in general. We go and visit our speciality coffee brothers whether it be Grindsmith, there’s Takk, North Tea Power have been flying the flag for great coffee in Manchester for a long time now and there’s Foundations and a few others. The more independents we can get going, I think it will be better for the industry in general.    

Jon: Yeah, I think in Manchester as well there’s a lot of chain coffee shops so part of what we’ve done is try to educate people about what speciality coffee is and the reason why we’ve sourced some of the best coffee beans that you can buy from around the world and the science that goes behind serving the coffee is something that we do but some great businesses in Manchester, like a few that I’ve said have been doing that for years. Certainly Grindsmith, probably a more masculine brand than ourselves, have done a great job and are growing very quickly and serve some great coffee and there’s lots of little fantastic independent restaurants and places to eat in the city too.

Who do you think are the most influential people in the local business scene?

From a food and drink point of view, I’d probably say Tim Bacon who sadly passed away recently. I think what he’s done for Manchester in general, not just food and drink, over the last ten-fifteen years, maybe longer, has been brilliant. The amount of great restaurants, great bars, great settings, I think it’s brought a lot of money to the city, a lot of people to the city and there’s been a lot of chains, independents that have grown into chains and spread  throughout the country and I think Tim Bacon and probably a lot of other people from the Living Ventures that have really contributed to that.

Jon: I think from our perspective, something that’s quite close to us is that Mike Ingall and Allied London have put a lot of money into the Spinningfields area not only that, not just building highrise office buildings to house all the thriving legal and professional industries that we’ve got in the city but also activating outdoor spaces, the redundant spaces, such as the Lawns, areas like that, turning them into something, making usable outdoor spaces.

I think Tim Bacon, people like Mike Ingall from Allied London, not only brought money into the city and jobs, but have been quite creative and free thinking in how they’ve looked at using the city of Manchester for their business needs.

Do you have any advice for new businesses in Manchester?

Jon: You’ve got to trust yourself because there’s opportunities at the start of any business to doubt yourself and doubt your judgement but if you’ve planned thoroughly enough and you’re confident enough in what you have to offer, you should really never need to compromise that and that will give you, should give you the confidence to continue. And there’s so many ups and downs it’s like –

Mark: – it’s a rollercoaster in some ways. When we think back to when we first started, we were washing pots, we were serving dishes, we were on the till, we were doing everything just to make it work and we made so many mistakes but you only learn from those mistakes and we could’ve planned for years and we still would’ve made the same mistakes that we did. So I’d say that hard work gets you a long way in life, whether it’s setting up a business, or studying for your degree, whatever you do hard work gets you a long way in life.  And then I’d just say that resilient attitude that we alluded to earlier Just be bulletproof and just do something you’re passionate about and just pursue it.

Jon: I think understanding as well people in your business, our customers, our interaction with our customers, our staff, it’s a people industry. Most businesses are but hospitality and especially speciality coffee is all about the people. You know, communicating with your customers, understanding what they want and need and our staff delivering an exquisite service. You know, real small details, a glass of water with your coffee to cleanse your palette, little details that we look at to help us engage with the customers. I think really simply, if you’re starting up a business focus on the people, whether that’s your staff or your customers and the rest will take care of itself.  

What’s the main benefit of working in Manchester?

Jon: The Northern Powerhouse. We’ve discussed just how powerful Manchester is becoming. One of the main benefits of being in the city centre is the influx of money and development, of people, you know, it’s literally galloping at such a rate now, it’s an exciting place to be. We’re a business that aspires to grow but we’re certainly not looking to have one coffee shop we want to grow into the city as it grows as well and we’ve got aspirations to do that.

Where are your favourite places to eat and drink in Manchester?

Mark: We had a lovely meal at Hawksmoor last night –

Jon:  –  a bit too much wine –

Mark: Yeah, we’ll not mention that!

Jon: Yeah

Mark: Yeah, we were saying last night how great a brand it is. It’s very consistent throughout, the product’s brilliant, the service is great and it’s great to see Hawksmoor moving up from London. And then there’s great other restaurants that are from Manchester: Australasia, Lunya, just opposite us in Barton Arcade is great and there’s loads of little pubs we like to go to.

Jon: Yeah for more sort of fine dining like the French in The Midland is great as an experience and for people who enjoy that fine dining experience then the French. Mr Coopers, House and Garden as well at The Midland is always a favourite of mine but Australasia for lunch.

Mark: There’s about 10-20 bars that we like to go to as well.

Jon: Yeah we do. We like the bars. The bars and restaurants in Manchester are good.

Mark: Yep.

Jon: I’m Jon

Mark: And I’m Mark

Together: And this is huddled.

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