One thing which the Isle of Wight does, and has always done well, is be an incubator for enterprise. Much has been said about the death and resurrection of the high street, but if you were hoping for a return to the butcher, baker and candlestick-maker, the old model is gone. In its place, the Island’s towns are filling with service providers: nail bars, coffee shops, barbers and tattooists – basically, things you couldn’t, or shouldn’t, order online. Even if the delivery drone can get your coffee to you within ten minutes, its flight will have rendered it cold; latte art unrecognisable.
While some cooks and chefs have used lockdown to start pop-up ‘ghost’ kitchens, others have expanded existing successful businesses. As with ComiCoffee. From a small but well-liveried cafe in Newport (with life-saving outside seating), this competent team has opened a second branch in East Cowes. Instead of moving into an vacant cafe or shop, ComiCoffee has joined other small businesses in units at the remodelled York Avenue Garage.
The car showroom is still there – a vehicle is another thing it might be unwise to buy online. This has been joined by a barber, tattoo parlour and now the coffee shop. Audacious, but somehow it works.
As is to be expected of a forecourt, outside space is plentiful. And, although you might be staring up an exhaust pipe as you drink your milkshake, you are not actually breathing in its gasses. As well as being away from the noisy road, the terrace is south-facing. Having had a frankly chilly dinner at a pavement cafe the night before, we celebrated the feel of the warming sun on our backs – and the bright daylight did wonders for our photos.
ComiCoffee’s signature waffles are present and correct. Cat chose her favourite; the delicious and photogenic mixed berries and Greek yoghurt bubble waffle. She admired the way the creamy yoghurt coated the waffle’s undulations like Diana Dors in a white negligee. Scattered on top was a medley of soft sweet fruit of various hues from redcurrant to blackberry. The waffle retained a pleasing crispness, as it – and the heat of the day – warmed its toppings. A tasty light lunch.
Salami panini £5.60
Mixed berry waffle £8.25
Sidekick shake £3.95
Earl Grey tea £2.70
Matt’s hot griddled panini was a simple and satisfying Italian-style affair, with salami, mozzarella and red pesto which soaked enticingly into the bread. A tiny ramekin of vegetable crisps served as a garnish.
ComiCoffee is all about the coffee (and comics). Rather neglectfully we didn’t actually drink coffee that day, but can report that the Earl Grey tea was hot and aromatic as expected, and Matt’s ‘Sidekick’ salted caramel and toffee milkshake was splendidly sticky and sweet, just as one would hope. No watery excuses for shakes here – ComiCoffee knows its core products well and East Cowes can deliver a shake just as excellent as the ones in the Newport branch.
We lingered for quite a while, amid an orbiting community of young families; children safe to run around in the sunshine playing games with their dog and doing cartwheels. The neighbouring barbershop and tattoo parlour seemed to be doing brisk trade. We saw several customers emerge; newly-inked arms tender and clingfilmed.
Although we’ve enjoyed the arrival of a delicatessen, vegan pizza restaurant and high street art gallery in our home town of Ryde, we couldn’t have predicted the repurposing of an East Cowes car showroom into hipster central. All power to their inked elbows.
Hopefully this model will inspire others across the Island. Does the Isle of Wight need more out-of-town big box retail, or should it facilitate pockets of agile local enterprises like ComiCoffee and its neighbours? Time to wake up and smell the coffee.