Caffeine & Machine, winner of this year’s Autocar Award for Innovation, is based on an idea that its founders admit is very simple.
“The thing people say,” says Dan Macken, who with Phil McGovern opened C&M in an abandoned roadside pub in Warwickshire late in 2018, “is that they can’t believe someone didn’t do this years ago.”
However, if you’re inclined to label C&M as merely a roadside coffee stop, you’re very wrong. It started that way, but it has expanded continually over three and a bit years to become a genuine cultural centre for car and bike lovers that can take 500 people and 200-plus cars at a time.
It’s open 14 hours a day and needs 90-odd staff, because they work three shifts on the busiest days. Set in 12 acres of little-landscaped woodland, C&M is now a welcoming coffee house, bar and restaurant, bed and breakfast, clothes and memorabilia emporium, art gallery and ever-changing motor show.
Attendance has to be ticketed at peak times, but the founders are determined to build a reputation for welcoming everyone. Macken and McGovern met in Dubai in 2015 while launching a start-up for a large UK conglomerate. McGovern had previously worked in cars and run his own media companies, discovering along the way that if you wanted to attract people to an event, one way was to invite their cars.
Get it right and everyone wanted to come: truckers, bikers, Ferrari owners, drifting enthusiasts and even a group of female supercar owners called the Arabian Gazelles. One Dubai event, labelled Caffeine & Machine, attracted 1500 people. McGovern says he had had the desire to open a car-based cafe for years. When he found a like-minded friend and potential business partner in Macken, the idea took off.
“We did a lot of talking about that special Dubai event, seeing it as the basis of a business,” says McGovern. “We became convinced it could work.”
The Dubai start-up dwindled and the two both had reasons to return to the UK. They decided their next step would be to try the cafe idea. While they were searching for premises, a chance conversation with a publican relative alerted McGovern to the potential of disused pubs. An internet search turned up dozens, including the place at Ettington, then muddy and undeveloped.
By February 2018, they had taken possession, and after a 10-month restoration of every wall, floor and ceiling, it opened that November. C&M developed at breakneck speed. The licence was granted, the restaurant grew, accommodation opened and the gallery and clothing aspects thrived. Some clients continue to view the idea as a no-brainer, but rivals are conspicuous by their absence.
“It might be logical, but it’s a sod to get right,” says Macken. “We have difficult and stressful days – but then we tell one another that if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”