‘Coffee, art + stuff’ at Milk + Hustle: Interview with owners Nikki and David 

New café and creative gallery space, Milk + Hustle first caught Pasha Milburn’s eye on social media where their Instagram account, stylishly presented with clear black and white graphics, promised ‘coffee, art + stuff coming soon’. Now recently open, the café/art space is just as sophisticated as it promised online, with bright white walls, black and copper accents, and large windows bringing in plenty of natural light. A compact space, the downstairs is perfect for grabbing a speedy takeaway drink and delicious pastry, while the upper level houses a collection of handcrafted goods from UK creators (such as ceramics, soap, jewellery by Nikki and prints/cards by David). 

Inspiring beginnings 
PICTURES: Nikki Haugh

A move to St Leonards had been on the cards since last October, as the couple wrestled with rising London rent costs and the urge to start something new. While Nikki is a jewellery maker with barista experience, David is a graphic designer with a passion for coffee, and it had been a long-time dream of theirs to create a coffee and arts space. 

However, they didn’t find the momentum to finally take the plunge until Nikki spent time during lockdown supporting a friend who was going through a difficult situation. Helping her friend through such a challenging time caused Nikki to reflect on her own life and she came to the conclusion that “there was more to life” than just living and working “chained to a desk 9-6” in London. After telling a friend her plans, she was introduced to the owner of their current premises, who just so happened to be looking for someone to take the space over. 

Sustainable Choices

One thing that makes Milk + Hustle stand out is the ethical and sustainable ethos the couple have built much of the shop upon. All packaging is biodegradable (including the cellophane David wraps his cards in), and any paper they use is FSC certified, recycled or compostable. 

The drinks they serve in the café also have a focus on ethical consumption as they offer a wide selection of non-dairy milks and source their tea from Fairtrade-certified NEMI, a social enterprise that employs refugees and uses biodegradable teabags that come in plastic-free packaging. 

Their speciality coffee, ‘The Baron’ from East London roastery Climpsons and Sons, is the main star here though. This coffee is sourced from the Brazilian Daterra Estate. Daterra means ‘from the earth’ and the estate focuses on sustainability and environmental care, believing in a sustainable supply chain. For example, Daterra use the discarded coffee fruit as the basis for their organic compost, re-purpose the water that is used during production and, of their 6,500 hectares, 3,000 hectares is considered ‘conservation land’. 

The estate’s commitment to sustainable practice can be seen in how it was the first farm in the world to receive ‘A’ level certification from the Rainforest Alliance. However, Nikki and David are clear that they don’t want their focus on sustainability to disengage anyone, and they have worked hard to keep their prices low, with, for example, a cappuccino costing £2.70 and a flat white £2.60.  

They have been open for only two weeks, but the couple agree that there has already been an overwhelm-ingly “positive response” from the local neighbourhood, with plenty of “amazing” support from other nearby businesses. 

Having moved from London due to unaffordable house prices, and with David hailing from Battersea, both Nikki and David are aware of the related issues of gentrification that can sometimes be associated with new developments. They are clear, however, that their main purpose is “not to change the community at all, but rather to become a part of the community” by creating a “real space for positivity”. For example, before opening they researched local coffee prices to make sure their prices were in line with others and are keen to support local creators through a variety of initiatives. As Nikki says, “We just want to build something lovely that belongs to us and that will allow us a better way of life away from the city.” 

Future plans

Nikki and David have some exciting future plans for Milk + Hustle, which they hope to start exploring in the new year. They want to begin by developing their website further (which will come in handy if this area goes into a second lockdown!) as well as sourcing more UK-made products (including some made by creators from Hastings and St Leonards). 

When it is safe to do so, Nikki envisions ‘meet the makers’ days where the small independent creators, whose work they stock, could visit and discuss their inspiration with customers. As a way of engaging with the local Hastings and St Leonards community, Nikki is keen to invite local artists for ‘feature weeks’ on their walls. She also wants to explore possibilities for using the coffee shop as a base to run community projects from. One idea is to offer placements to young people so they can gain employment experience. 

These are plans for the future though. For now, Nikki and David are hard at work making coffees and forming links with their new neighbourhood. They are “tired but happy”; slowly turning their long-planned dream into a shiny new reality. 

Milk + Hustle can be found at 45B London Road. They are currently open 8am-2pm but check their social media @milkandhustle for updates.

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