Sophia at Well Grounded’s Tower Hamlets academy

Graduate Success – Carmen’s Family Coffee House

Founder of Carmen’s Family Coffee House, and Well Grounded Graduate – Sophia – speaks on her time with Well Grounded, her journey so far, and her ambitions for the future.

Before embarking on her journey with Well Grounded, something that would ultimately lead her to manifest her dream of owning and running a community-orientated cafe, Sophia’s knowledge of the industry was very limited.  Speaking to her only months after opening Carmen’s Family Coffee House during the middle of a global pandemic, she tells me how the extent of her coffee experience was made up of regular visits to East London cafes with her dad, a builder, during his working day. 

A key piece of her coffee-shop dream was serving good coffee, and having hunted for some time for a Barista course to enrol on to begin realising her coffee-shop vision, Sophia came across a Well Grounded poster advertising ‘Free Barista Courses’.  She took the opportunity and a step into the unknown. 2 years later and Carmen’s Family Coffee House is up and running. Her time with Well Grounded set her off on her Coffee career, confident and ready for the next steps, she tells me:

“Well Grounded really elevated me to another level that probably would have taken me years to get to… it built my confidence up to being able to actually use a machine… I don’t think I would have had the guts to have gone further if it wasn’t for the course.”

As we talk, her daughter, Carmen, is in and out of the room, the 5-year-old briefly says hi to me before politely telling Sophia that the cat stole her cookie – we laugh and Sophia continues to tell me how Carmen has been enjoying the play-kitchen in the shop, pretending to pull espresso shots like her mum. The relationship between the two summarises the warm feeling one can expect from a visit to Sophia’s shop, a place where fun is encouraged and everyone is welcome.

Setting up a cafe from scratch, in the middle of a global pandemic, has been no easy feat. Sophia’s upbeat attitude to the current situation is reinforced by the mentality of doing it for her late mother, Carmen, the namesake of both her daughter and the cafe. 

Sophia and daughter Carmen inside Carmen’s Family Coffee House, Poplar

From a young age, Sophia was the primary carer for her mother, and for the next 15 years they developed a close bond – something that is channeled into every aspect of the shop. Her mother’s legacy lives on in more than just the name: the Ecuadorian menu currently under construction, the mountain-scapes adorning the walls and the potential for Ecuadorian guest-beans to feature in the future, are all references the South American heritage Sophia and her mother share. 

The sense of family and community is impossible to ignore, it extends beyond the legacy of her mother throughout the shop, and beyond the work that her dad has done getting the property into a lovely, homely state. Family and community are ingrained into the very reason Sophia founded the shop in the first place. As a single mother, Sophia’s vision of a safe, welcoming, and child-friendly environment for the residents, and more importantly – the parents – of Poplar was clear and informed by her own experience of feeling isolated from the places she once enjoyed visiting:

“The real reason that I set it up was to get people out of their houses in the area and to have a different sort of setting to go to. For me, I went through a point when I had Carmen where I was isolated in the house too scared to go out, all the local places that I’d go to were so uninviting and unwelcoming – what’s the point in going out? That’s where it came from.”

Her special understanding of the need for a place like Carmen’s has enabled her – with the help of her dad’s building skills – to curate a perfect environment to match her vision. Complete with a buggy park, toy store, and baby-friendly menu, Carmen’s Family Coffee House has stayed true to Sophia’s original dream. 

“My goals have shifted recently”,  Sophia tells me. Franchising has obviously been on her mind, but at barely 2 months old and limited to takeaway service, for the time being, the shop remains in its fledgling stages.

The ambition for the moment is to have customers in the shop with their children, enjoying it as it was intended to be used – and hopefully, it won’t be too long until this goal is achieved.