Founded in 1982 as an ice cream van business, Colicci has grown to a network of 30 fixed sites in London’s most visited public parks with a mixture of cafés, kiosks, restaurants and vintage ice cream trucks. Rob Colicci, Director of the family business since 2008, speaks to World Coffee Portal about challenging perceptions around kiosk catering, the importance of matching design with location and why specialty coffee is the core of its offering
Colicci Managing Director Rob Colicci | Photo credit: Colicci
How has Colicci evolved since first partnering with The Royal Parks in 1994?
In the early days of partnering with The Royal Parks we were a different business. We had emerged as an ice cream events operator that was venturing into fixed sites; selling coffee, sandwiches and various grab & go items. It was a period when quality was important but far less of a consumer concern than it is today.
There had been a catalogue of kiosk providers prior to us that had struggled to make the business model work. Through the years we have endeavoured to continually improve on what we deliver. In the late 2000s there was a real drive on provenance as we looked to really champion the product we served. We opened a central production unit, later our own bakery, which meant much of our product was and still is, made in-house.
We were the first to switch to specialty coffee in an open space in 2014, which capped off a complete change in culture. The focus on specialty coffee from that point has been paramount as we see coffee at the core of our offering, allowing other products to continually pivot around it to provide a relevant and enticing all day menu.
How important is design in changing the perception of kiosk catering?
It’s critical – we would never undertake a new project unless we could transmit what we stand for in design. Our first major mobilisation of a kiosk fleet for The Royal Parks in 2004 was fairly avant-garde for its time. Kiosk catering sometimes doesn’t get the recognition it deserves and we were intent on elevating this impression. In 2018, we partnered with dynamic architect Jonathan Mizzi of Mizzi Studio, and, alongside Tom Raffield, a specialist in steam bending wood, we delivered what is now considered the benchmark for kiosk design.
We tend to play with layouts a fair amount. We made a rectangular box into a curve, with ambitions for the architecture to blend with their natural surroundings while also making a contemporary artistic statement. There were 10 kiosks and not a single one was the same, each with a subtle difference – some with curves on curves, one clad in brass!
A permanent Colicci kiosk in Hyde Park, London | Photo credit: Colicci/Mizzi Studio
What are the benefits and challenges of operating sites in London’s parks?
Given the seasonal nature of what we do, when the sun shines it’s great; not only for business but also as motivation for the team. The parks are a wild and wonderful place to work and given current city lifestyles, working in and amongst nature is a privilege. The hardest part of park life is the off season and inclement weather. It is very hard to predict and is definitely the most challenging part of the business. Changes in the weather, both positive and negative, can have a dramatic effect and can contribute up to a ten times difference in sales.
In 2016 you opened a kiosk at Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford, London – how does the site compare to your park sites?
The idea with Westfield was to establish the brand and test whether it could stand up on the high street. We were also keen to flex our design muscles. The aim was for the design and build of Westfield to act as a platform and model for future kiosks and cafes. The undulating roof was made from over 500 sheets of copper riveted together which floats atop 360 frameless glazing. The offer is a typical Colicci kiosk offer which is underpinned by our specialty coffee, handmade cakes and pastries.
“Every product on our menu needs to have a shared value and be top quality. However, the coffee will be the one thing people come for every single day”
Among your menu variety, what role does coffee hold in the brand’s day-to-day operations?
Coffee is undoubtedly the spine of the business, and my belief is that it's key to our continued success. Every product on our menu needs to have a shared value and to be top quality. However, the coffee will be the one thing people come for every single day. A pizza, a salad, an ice cream will be occasional, but a coffee is all day, any day, so we strive to get this consistent and as perfect as we can. After coffee, ice cream is still a significant part of the sales mix and alcohol is probably our fastest growing category. On hot food I would say things like our halloumi wraps, smash burgers and stone baked pizzas are still the showstoppers, and very much cemented as customer favourites.
Where next for Colicci? What do the next five years have in store?
We’re excited, as we see the pathway for continued, sustainable growth ahead of us. However, we’ve never believed in aggressive growth. We commit to projects that are within our means and do not compromise existing business. We are privately owned and don’t have any outside funding, which provides us with a unique foundation and the ability to be adaptable or conversely rigid when we need to be. We are very confident in open spaces so this is something we will continue to explore.
However, other historic landmarks such as museums, galleries and cherished London spaces are also areas we’ll look to break into. We feel quite measured in our approach, any new opportunity has to be right for the team and our identity.
Rob Colicci is Director of Colicci