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Spencer Bowman

Spencer Bowman on nurturing the right business blend

By Spencer Bowman

Managing Director, Mettricks Hospitality Ltd.

Since his own first life-changing sip of speciality coffee, proud Sotonian Spencer Bowman has been on a mission to bring better coffee to Southampton.

Now, with three Mettricks sites across the city (coffee houses by day and speakeasy cocktail lounges by night), a new coffee roasting facility bringing Southampton its own special blend, and a bakery, Spencer’s dream and hard work in creating a new coffee culture for the city is being realised.

But Spencer’s contribution to the community goes far beyond the coffee bean, as shared spaces at the heart of the city’s culture, Mettricks is playing a pivotal role in shaping the Southampton of the future.

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When did you first find an appreciation for coffee?

I spent some time in Singapore and New Zealand and it was there that I fell in love with coffee for the first time. Up until then coffee for me had either been horrible instant stuff like Maxwell House that my uncle drank, or syrup-sweetened Starbucks.

There were a couple of chains in Singapore that were a bit of a Central Perk from Friends-like meeting place, and I quite liked the vibe of coffee houses, but I still didn't really understand the drink.

At the end of my time in Singapore, I travelled to New Zealand. I can remember my first life-changing flat white coffee in Christchurch in New Zealand sitting in the sunshine opposite an old vintage Volvo car that was in the Mettricks yellow colour. I'd never seen or heard of a flat white before, and it tasted amazing.

When did the speciality coffee scene reach Southampton?

When I returned to the UK speciality coffee hadn't arrived here. The latest wave of speciality coffee – which is treating the coffee itself as a treasured ingredient – has only really landed in the UK in the last 10 years or so. A few places in London went first and were very influenced by the Australia and New Zealand speciality coffee culture which I'd witnessed back in 2007.

I was really intrigued by the spread of coffee culture. In Southampton, there was nowhere to enjoy a good cup of coffee in the city and so in the back of my mind, the entrepreneurial cogs were already turning.

From that first cup of coffee in New Zealand through to seeing it arrive in the UK and not finding it in my home city, I set up Hampshire’s first specialty coffee shop back in 2013 in Southampton. I started Mettricks with all the savings I had and threw myself into building an understanding of specialty coffee.

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How is British coffee culture evolving?

I think there is a new appreciation for coffee as an ingredient. Coffee grown with care and treated with real understanding right the way through the process from the picking of a coffee cherry to the roasting of the coffee beans and how the barista treats them.
British consumers are becoming more aware and interested, in all sorts of ways not just for coffee, in food and flavours and the provenance of where we get things from.

We’ve got a very international food culture and there’s some exciting stuff happening with food and with speciality coffee. We’ve got a lot of customers now who want to actively engage with what we’re doing – there’s a real appetite for experimentation.

In terms of coffeehouse culture, we’ve almost come full circle. Coffeehouses in the UK were prevalent several hundred years ago – they were the meeting places for everyone from philosophers to insurance brokers to get together, share ideas, and work collaboratively. If you look at Mettricks today, there are so many interesting people congregating there – we’ve created the kind of space where “Let’s meet at Mettricks” is almost in the city’s vocabulary.

What is the philosophy behind the spaces you have created at Mettricks?

Mettricks is my great grandparents’ surname and the spaces at Mettricks are based on the feelings that I got from their living room. Their door was always open, they had dozens of grandchildren, the furniture was mismatched, the kettle was always whistling in the background. It was bustling, and everybody there was loved and welcomed – that homely feeling is at the very heart of the culture of the business.

We’ve created a place for anybody who wants to be part of a good community-focused business. Our customers are local businesspeople, students, mums with families, tourists, regulars… We’ve got people that have come back almost daily for nine years now. It hasn’t happened accidentally although in some ways it’s happened organically. It’s a feeling that I have nurtured and fought for at times.

The space itself is important but we’re a people-based business experience. Every single day we open our doors, the magic happens because of the people we’ve got here. It’s co-created not just by our team, but also by all of our customers.

"I can remember my first life changing flat white coffee in Christchurch in New Zealand sat in the sunshine opposite an old vintage Volvo car that was in the Mettricks yellow colour. I'd never seen or heard of a flat white before, and it tasted amazing."

Spencer Bowman - Managing Director, Mettricks Hospitality Ltd.

Where is your favourite place to visit when you need to recharge?

I love being by the sea. My grandma had a little shop in Beaulieu in the New Forest, and one of my favourite places to go with her as a kid was down to Lepe beach overlooking the Isle of Wight. If I need to get away and recharge my batteries, being by the water tends to put me right quite quickly.

Outside of that, I love going scuba diving where you’re in a completely different world. I find it quite hard to switch off my brain but when you’re 25 metres underwater amongst shipwrecks, fish, and sharks, you’re in a fascinating landscape and it clears my head entirely of any thoughts of coffee shops.