The changing face of cafes in London's Royal Parks

A family-owned coffee business - which started with a single ice cream van - is spending up to £3m replacing its ten kiosks and cafes in London’s Royal Parks.

Colicci, which was set up by husband-and-wife team Ernie and Josephine Colicci in 1982, has had these sites in Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park for the last 15 years. As part of its recent re-tendering for a ten-year contract, it pledged to ditch the rectangular natural timber kiosks (whose cantilevered serving hatches sheltered customers) in favour of contemporary structures, each of which is different.

The nine new kiosks, which are mobile to satisfy a planning condition, and one permanent café have been designed by London-based Mizzi Studio. The eighth to open is the Serpentine Café, which has an undulating roof reminiscent of a stingray or the brim of a sun hat. The last to be completed – the Horseshoe kiosk in St James’s Park – will open in October.

Replacing the existing structures gave Colicci the chance to rethink the speed and efficiency of the operation in an effort to drive average spend, says director Robert Colicci. Nearly all of the branches have a bigger footprint and are taller, which increases stocking capacity. Increasing the power supply allows them to operate more equipment and thereby enlarge and enhance the food and drink offer, and there are more till points.

As for the aesthetic: “we improved it so that it was sympathetic to the environment, but impactful and welcoming,” Colicci says. As stipulated by the client, the Royal Parks’ commercial director, the Colicci brand is subservient, and is hidden discreetly under the cardboard clutch on take-away coffee cups.

Having operated in the parks since the late 1990s, “we had the luxury of knowing what the revenue was before we made this investment,” Colicci adds.

The new Serpentine Café, which draws inspiration from ancient Japanese tea houses, has been given a more prominent spot than its predecessor, at the front of the site. Inside, it features dark blue tiles behind a bespoke walnut-clad counter, a terrazzo floor, chairs upholstered in green leather, and surfaces of Perlino Rosato marble. The 11m x 9m hand-patinated brass effect canopy was created with Arup and reinforced with carbon and glass fibre.

All of Mizzi’s kiosks are approximately 10m by 6m by 3m, and are built with a materials palette of oak, brass, copper and stainless steel. Each has a biomorphic aesthetic, as the studio is focused on creating natural forms from the fusion of the digital with traditional crafts. “Each kiosk is unique but they’re siblings,” says studio founder Jonathan Mizzi. “They are tree-like sculptures that are way-finders and ambassadors for the parks.”

Colicci has more than 30 sites in total, the rest in other London parks. The first to be designed by Mizzi Studio was The Pheasantry in Richmond’s Bushy Park seven years ago.

The company is considering expanding in the capital beyond parks and into venues such as gardens, museums and visitor centres. “I don’t think we’ll be jumping into the high street any time soon because it’s a busy crowded place,” says Colicci.

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