Dave Cullern of Sham City Roasters tells us of his story of how he went from a psychiatric nurse to coffee roaster to owning his own coffee shop. In just two incredible years Cullern tells us how he made his dreams come true with this personal interview. Along the way we discuss everything from Santa Cruz to slush puppies to making the best grilled vegan cheese...
Tell us about the first moment you decided to roast your own coffee?
I can literally pinpoint the exact moment! I was travelling through America 2 years ago and I had stopped in Santa Cruz, a place I'd always wanted to go. I was sitting in The Santa Cruz Roasting Company café, reading an amazing Microcosm book called "Beyond The Music" which is all about people from the punk scene who have started ethical businesses. The 2 things must have twinned in my mind and I pretty much decided there and then that I was gonna start up a coffee roasting business. It all seems a bit random now but at the time it was like a light bulb going off in my head!! My life was at a bit of a crossroads at the time, my marriage had recently ended and I was planning on leaving a 15 year career as a psychiatric nurse. Part of the reason I'd gone on the trip (which ended up lasting 2 months) was because I'd been clutching at straws for what to do with my future generally and to get away and think because I feel like I think clearer when I'm travelling. I'd probably already come up with hundreds of other schemes over the few weeks previous but the idea of coffee roasting just stuck for some reason.
And did the dream of owning a coffee shop shortly follow?
Fundamentally the idea of owning a coffee shop came first. I'd always fancied the idea but talked myself out of considering it seriously because that's just how my brain worked up until a few years ago. I could always see the risk and the negatives long before I saw that I actually had some pretty cool ideas and that the only way I was ever going to be happy in life is if I put my destiny in my own hands. I hate work but I get bored really easily. Running my own business suits me in that context because it never feels like work and there's always something new to do. What I was lacking was guts. Roasting coffee felt like a safe way to develop a skill, learn about an industry and create a brand on a smaller scale and smaller budget than it would have taken to jump in and start a café with all the rent, overheads and risk involved. I always wanted that to be the end result though.
Sham City Roasters has a very strong brand - could you talk us through what inspired this and how it represents you as a person? How long did this take you to form?
Well, I think the brand came quite easily in some ways because I just applied all of the things I like to an industry that doesn't usually acknowledge anything other than grey dullness. I like music, I like trashy films and alternative culture, I like pink, I like bad puns and have a terrible sense of humour. I kind of just combined all of that and applied it to the coffee I was making. I treated starting a coffee company in the same way as I would treat starting a punk band. The coffee world is so grey and dull that I think that makes my brand stand out a bit more.
Weirdly, I found a bit of note paper the other day from a hotel in Gainesville which was a later stop on that same trip I mentioned earlier and I'd drunkenly scrawled the logo on it. It must have been dark because some of the 3 X's missed the coffee cup and the steam was wonky but it pretty much looks exactly the same as the final version. Its weirder still because I didn't even draw the actual version, Dan Allen, who is an extremely talented person, drew that and, while I did give him a pretty clear description of what I wanted, I never showed him that drawing... Some sort of weird magic I guess. As far as the rest of the images I use, I tend to find awesome artists, give them a vague idea or a phrase and let them do whatever with it. I find that removing myself from the process tends to be the best way of getting the best work!
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given since starting SCR?
I've spent my whole life ignoring the same piece of advice and that is that if you want to do something, just do it, don't let anyone question it or put you off, just trust yourself and do it. Having been a part of the DIY punk scene since I was 15 I've heard that from so many people and have probably believed that I was doing exactly that but I look back on my teens and 20's and realise that I always stopped myself really pulling the trigger. I was brought up in an extremely risk averse family and I don't think I realised until quite recently how much that affected me in relation to living the life I wanted to. I always planned to do weird and wonderful things, I often started doing them, sometimes putting months of work into planning business and recreational ideas but when it came to actually jumping in I always found an excuse not to. My attempts at fulfilling the "do it yourself" aesthetic that I always put such importance in, always had minimal risks involved until I realised that its the risks that make this stuff worth doing, its putting yourself in challenging situations that lead to actual happiness. I was a late bloomer I guess.
After starting Sham City Roasters I found myself surrounded by a completely different set of people. Taking part in markets and mixing with other people who were self employed/running their own business was a huge kick up the arse for me. I started to realise all the times that I was just making excuses for myself for not putting myself out there due to lack of confidence or laziness. It was amazing to talk to people like Annah at Girl And Bird, Cat at Cat Food Cakes and you guys at SoLo who were all really doing it! It made me pull many fingers out.
So how is life comparing by the sea compared to London Town?
I bloody love it! I've always wanted to live by the sea and its just another thing I never pulled the trigger on, it was always something that I "was going to do in the future" (despite how ancient I'm getting) but its so good to have actually done it! I love London, I've lived in greater London my entire life but I was ready to get out. Hastings is such a magical place, its still pretty rough around the edges, it still looks like a "proper" English sea side town but there's loads of creativity going on, loads of weird and wonderful people and its small enough that you get to know people quickly. I've lived here for less than 2 months and I still have a lot of practical ties with London but I can already tell you I'm not moving back anytime soon. Also, I can buy slush puppies and cotton candy whenever the f**k I like now.
Can you share any other future plans you may be having?
Right now the café is using up all of my energy and its difficult to make future plans when you spend all your time obsessing over one thing. I have plans to get my coffee out to more shops and cafes but practically its pretty difficult to find the time to roast enough to do much more than I'm doing already. My future plans do include working out the greatest vegan grilled cheese recipe and developing the food that's available here. I also don't want to loose track of all the other things I do outside of the coffee shop, my bands, getting out to shows, walking to beautiful places and, most importantly, cuddling my cat.
Please tell our readers how they can find out more:
I recently started blogging at www.shamcityroasters.com. Thus far it hasn't really been about coffee that much but I'm gonna change that and spice it up a little bit in the coming months (that sounds like I'm gonna add nudity. I'm not). You can also find me on Instagram at @shamcityroasters if you wanna see pictures of vegan food and cats, that's the one I update the most although I'm on all the social medias so catch me on your favourite one if you wish!
Sham City Roasters Craft filter coffee roasters and vegan/vegetarian cafe in Hastings at The Clockwork Crow, 68 George St in the heart of Hastings Old Town