Jonny Aspden has his best ideas while out running.
“My wife hates it when I go because I come back with all these crazy plans,” says the owner of Coffee Apothecary, a chain of coffee shops in Udny and Ellon.
It was while out running that he came up with a crowdfunding plan to get Coffee Apothecary through the pandemic.
And he was pounding the pavement when he decided the business should start roasting its own coffee beans.
His latest idea, however, could be his best yet.
“Sometimes I just come back and grab our paper and stick around a little bit different ideas,” Jonny says. “And this is one of them.”
Jonny and his wife Ali will, until the end of July, offer hospitality staff a 50% discount at either of the Coffee Apothecary shops.
The idea is to support Aberdeenshire’s service staff as they struggle through one of the most difficult periods they have ever faced.
Jonny says the discount is his way of thanking people that toil in jobs often looked down upon.
“It’s always been the case that hospitality workers in the UK don’t get paid enough,” he explains.
“In countries like France, for example, hospitality is a valid profession that is paid well. In the UK, it’s seen as a job you have before you get a ‘real’ job.
“That’s not right, because it is one of the hardest-working jobs in the country.”
Respite for hard work
According to Jonny, hospitality workers are being squeezed harder than ever because of the pressure on jobs caused by the pandemic. Recently, that’s been coupled with rising prices through inflation.
He hopes the discount will offer some sort of respite – a chance for hospitality workers to treat themselves.
“People only work in hospitality because they love it,” says Jonny, who founded Coffee Apothecary with Ali in 2014.
“It’s damn hard work, but we love it. But with all the cost-of-living stuff, it means that once people pay their mortgage and the heating, there’s nothing left to spend on enjoying themselves.”
Jonny admits his discount is a drop in the ocean when set against the financial hurdles hospitality workers face.
But he hopes his idea can spark a wider change, and encourage other businesses to follow his lead. The aim is to make the Coffee Apothecary discount easy to access, with the only requirement being a payslip from a hospitality job.
“I sent a lot of Instagram messages last night to all the people I know in the industry and I received a lot of comebacks,” Jonny says. “That’s awesome. That’s amazing. Whether it goes anywhere or not, I have no idea, but I would love it if almost every place in Aberdeen offered a similar discount.”
Changing attitudes to hospitality
For Jonny, the ultimate goal would be to convince customers to pay more for their food to cover wage rises for hospitality staff.
But the seasoned café owner knows that is an uphill struggle, especially as disposable incomes shrink.
“Every customer would agree that we should pay our staff more,” Jonny says. “But when you tell them that this means the price of their food will go up by two pounds, then they think, ‘Actually, no, don’t do that’.”
If nothing changes, Jonny fears losing more hospitality staff to other professions.
He says that over lockdown many chefs became delivery drivers. Many have stayed because the hours are better and the pay higher.
There is, he adds, a culture in the cheffing world of 100-hour weeks that the industry needs to move away from.
Then he laughs, perhaps envisaging another run in the Aberdeenshire countryside.
“But that’s a whole different campaign,” he says.