Dave Koller, Cafe des ArtsStepping into Café des Arts there is a sense of Art Deco meets the present – people of all ages relaxing in huge leather armchairs and sofas, drinking cups of coffee, sitting at cosy tables savouring a slice of home-made cake or enjoying a hearty meal or tasty snack prepared by the manager, Dave Koller. There’s an abundance of art to enjoy on the walls and for sale by local artists – both original works and prints. The café staff also exhibit their work.

I caught up with Dave after the café had closed on a Thursday evening. Sipping a beautiful cup of coffee and basking in sunlight by the window, I admired one of Mike Bowler’s paintings.

Café des Arts is a social enterprise partnered with the charity Autism Sussex. Dave and his wife Jude are part owners of the business and look after the café whilst Autism Sussex provide people with autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other special needs with work in the cafe as part of a social enterprise training scheme.

Born in Sydney, Australia, Dave moved to England in 1998, aged seventeen. He then studied history at the Metropolitan University in London and worked as a waiter. With strong organisational skills he soon moved into the kitchen, and worked his way up from the bottom. After finishing his degree he returned to the same company and within two years became a short order cook, which meant preparing three hundred meals by three o’clock. Later, working in a pub taught him how to prepare meals throughout the day In 2012 he moved to Bexhill-on-Sea and a year later opened up the Wholesome Café with his wife. Last year Café des Arts approached Dave with an offer of managing their café.

He says that in taking on the café they lost about eighty percent of the customers, by making drastic alterations which included changing the menu completely and scaling down the number of cakes on offer.

Now they make some of the cakes on the premises but also work closely with a dedicated team called Roebuck, part of Autism Sussex, which allows people with special needs to obtain work experience. Dave likes the fact that by selling Roebuck produce they are giving back to the charity.

I asked Dave what benefit the café has for the people of Hastings. He says proudly that they serve the best coffee in Hastings, they are dog-friendly, and have a really nice mix of people who visit them – mothers and babies, students, teachers from the college, school children, the elderly, and people with special needs. On the shelves is an array of products from local companies, a local bookseller’s cookbooks, Roasted coffee from Brighton, Aero Press coffee makers and Roebuck’s food and pottery, including their ever popular fish huts which are a favourite of tourists.

Other things in store for the café in the future include live music, vegetable food boxes from a community fruit and veg project, and employing more people with special needs, which Dave is very passionate about.

He would also like to promote more artwork . The café had always exhibited art on the walls from people with Autism and Asperger’s syndrome. However, some of the work hadn’t changed in a long time, so when they took over they decided on a new approach, displaying art from people with special needs alongside other local artists.

The artwork compliments the space but doesn’t intrude, gently coaxing you into each creative piece. I particularly liked Mark Fisher’s ‘Awakening.’ Each exhibition stays up for five weeks, so there is plenty of time to contemplate them and re-visit with friends and family.

If you are interested in having a piece of work exhibited, come in and see Michael Blick, who curates the exhibitions.

Cafe des Arts is at 28-29 Robertson St, Hastings TN34 1HT

[email protected] 01424 434 564

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