Hunt and Darton Café
Like many others I’m always keen to see a new place to get a good flat white in the area and so was happy to see Hunt and Darton Café appear on Lower Clapton Road. Some further investigation showed that it was more than your average cafe, but instead a project set up by artists with an interesting take on transparency in business. I spoke to Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton to find out more.
Who is behind Hunt and Darton?
Hunt & Darton is the Live Art collaboration between artists Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton. The artists combine elements of spoken word, movement, improvisation, and many others in their experiment and play with the aesthetics of entertainment and performance. In addition to their work on the Hunt & Darton Café, the artists are also associate artists at the Cambridge Junction. Hunt & Darton have presented their work in a range of settings including theatres, empty shops, churches, marquees, homes, high streets, parks, hills, galleries, golf courses, camp sites, festivals, dance studios and pubs, as well as various UK art venues including Colchester Arts Centre, The Junction, NRLA, James Taylor Gallery, Café gallery, Arnolfini Bristol, Bluecoats Liverpool, Fireplace gallery Plymouth, Basement Brighton, Chapter Cardiff and Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The Cafe has also been shaped by a series of artists’ commissions – things to look out for include Helen Stratford’s menus, Low Profile’s ‘Survival Shelf’ and Erica Bohr’s loo-roll dolly and of course our guest waiters such as Scottie, Bryony Kimmings, Richard Layzell and Tom Marshman performing their style of service.
It’s not just a normal cafe, what’s it all about?
Hunt & Darton Cafe is a coffee shop and interactive art installation, a social and artistic hub where engagement, spontaneity and performance meet great food and drink. This unique coffee spot creatively exposes the inner workings of the whole café business, and presents everything, from menu to décor, and servers to dishes, as art. Hunt & Darton Café serves great coffee and creates a vibrant artistic environment.
What compelled you to open in Clapton?
We know Joe and Joel who run Riley’s and when they moved across the road they invited us to do our cafe at 118. We know the area well and thought H&D Cafe would be really appreciated here. We see it as our home and are staying for an indefinite period of time – we usually just pop-up for a month. It is our aim to create a truly sustainable art practice.
You are being transparent about your finances, what made you want to do this?
It is all part of the art. In response to our economic climate we aim to provoke dialogue surrounding the business depicted on the dominating blackboards – attention is drawn to the cafe’s sustainability. It offers a truly transparent business model in that the account is quite literally black and white.
You’re also being responsive to customer needs, what have you changed since you’ve been open?
Now that we’ve had time to make ourselves at home, all of our key ingredients are bought in from local Hackney suppliers – even the milk (but not the battenburg)! We have introduced a range of gluten free cakes, made sure our coffee is perfect every time introducing decaf and soya too and re-arranged the space to make buggies fit a little better.
How have the customers reacted to the project?
We have had a fantastic response with lots of regulars and a few already rewarded through our loyalty scheme (5 visits and you don’t just get a free coffee but an award ceremony and a miniature art commission from Low Profile). People really get it and love the coffee too. Avocado on toast and the bacon buttie on E5 Bakehouse bread are very popular.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to open their own business in the area?
Make sure you allow enough time for it to grow. People are still only just discovering us!
What are your plans for the project?
More visual art that responds to the cafe’s infrastructure, events including record nights, cheese and wine evenings and live art performance and music nights. We will also be trying out new performance work on our victims…we mean our customers!
And finally, what do you love about Hackney?
Its diversity, it is truly multicultural. There’re loads of creative types too. Brilliant shops, galleries, eateries and markets. It is never boring.
All photos by Laura Sweeney