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Be inspired every day with Living North
Owner of North Shore Coffee Toby Davison
Eat and Drink
July 2023
Reading time 4 Minutes

Celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, North Shore Coffee have grown from their Quayside Market pop-up to multiple locations across the North East, and have now opened their first coffee shop Neighbourhood in Heaton

We catch up with founder Toby Davison to find out more.

Like many successful coffee entrepreneurs, Toby found his love and passion for coffee when he was on the other side of the world. ‘I was living in New Zealand when I was 20 years old and had a good friend who was professional mountain biker living in Queenstown. The last thing my dad said to me was don’t go out on a mountain bike with Tommy and fall off and break your wrist – on the second day out there I did just that, braking my scaphoid,’ he says.

Breaking his wrist meant Toby couldn’t start his job he had lined up on a fruit farm until it had healed, so instead he spent his time hanging out in cafés and coffee shops. ‘The coffee and hospitality scene in New Zealand and Australia is unreal, and I remember going into a café and ordering a flat white – they asked me if I wanted it made with a coffee from Brazil or Ethiopia as they had different flavours and tasting notes. They recommended the Brazilian coffee as the chocolatey and sweeter flavours would work much better with milk. I remember drinking it and being amazed by the whole vibe and experience. After that I was hooked.’

Read More: How Northumberland Coffee is Serving Speciality Coffee Across the County

After retuning home to start university Toby took a part-time job at a coffee shop in Newcastle. ‘Someone told me about the local market on the Quayside and how it was impossible to find a good coffee there. So I raked together all of my savings and bought a coffee machine, a gazebo and a few other bits and headed down there one Sunday to try and get a pitch and make coffee,’ he says.

Growing up in the small seaside village of Alnmouth gave Toby the idea for the name of his new business. ‘In the early days I always wanted to open a coffee shop up there and it’s kind of how I came up with the name North Shore Coffee,’ he says. Starting the business as a part-time hobby allowed Toby to learn everything on the job, however it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that the business really took off.

‘In 2019 I upgraded the gazebo to a fully-kitted out coffee van (which is the same one you see at all the local markets across Newcastle) and decided to take the plunge and quit my job to go full-time, taking the van to events and markets,’ he explains. Spending the entire winter planning for a busy spring and summer, Toby was excited about the future of North Shore. However, when Covid hit it meant his original business plan was no longer an option.

‘I think it was around May I noticed other cafés had started opening for takeaway and I thought to myself “I have a coffee van that I can serve outside so there’s got to be something I can do here”. I went for a drive and saw the spot at Little Moor [in Gosforth] and thought this could work and hopefully it’ll just keep things ticking over until the world gets back to normal,’ he explains.

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Toby contacted the council who granted permission to trade on the site and a week later he opened the hatch. As the weeks went on the spot got busier and busier. ‘I think it was a mixture of a few things [which allowed North Shore to grow]. The first was that we were probably one of the only places open at that time and we were serving outside, so naturally people felt safer visiting us. The location helped as well, as it’s very suburban and everybody was working from home at the time. We always make a huge effort to be super nice to every single customer, it’s what’s embedded in our company ethos. At what was otherwise a pretty dark time in the world, it think it became a highlight for a lot of our customers. The pandemic was a really mad time for us, but when I look back it was definitely the thing that really got North Shore off the ground.’

With their coffee van at Little Moor, their residency in Newcastle’s Grainger Market and their pop-ups at local markets across the region, it’s clear to see the business has gone from strength to strength. ‘We source our beans from our coffee supplier Origin Coffee Roasters who recently put us in touch with a farmer from El Salvador called Carlos Santos. We tasted some of his coffee from his farm and it was incredible – it’s currently our house coffee that we serve in all our espresso-based drinks across all our sites,’ Toby says. ‘The current coffee is super chocolatey with notes of caramel and sweet plum – it’s amazing in a flat white! You can buy our beans from any of our sites and our lovely baristas can grind it too if you need. Soon you’ll be able to buy our coffee online as well.’

North Shore’s latest achievement has been opening their first coffee shop, Neighbourhood. ‘Neighbourhood is a funny one because I actually used to work in that shop years ago when it was called BLK Coffee and owned by my good friend Alison. It was my first job in a proper speciality coffee shop. Dave [Grieves] and I weren’t actively looking for a new site, but we had both said if that place ever became available we would jump on it because it’s such a brilliant location. It was a pretty long and complicated process, and I had actually decided around Christmas I wasn’t going to proceed with it, but thankfully down to super helpful landlords we managed to get in and start work in March. You can expect all the things from North Shore from us there – amazing coffee, super-friendly service, delicious cakes and pastries from our bakery, and the ability to have it in a proper cup,’ he says.

Despite the 10th anniversary of the business being celebrated this year, and the launch of their new coffee, Toby explains he still has big plans for the future of North Shore. ‘We want to become a coffee roastery next year. Our suppliers Origin have been absolutely incredible, but my vision has always been to create a coffee company that puts Newcastle on the map in the speciality coffee world, and having our own product will help allow us to achieve this and grow the business through different avenues,’ he says. ‘It’ll also allow us to educate and hopefully over time, help improve lives and conditions at source, which is something I’m really keen to do. We’ll always remain true to our values though – which is making people’s days better.’

Quick-Fire Questions

Coffee order?
Flat white in the morning and double espresso in the afternoon.

Other than coffee, what are you drinking?

Favourite North East restaurant?
It’s got to be Barrio Comida in Durham. I recently returned from Mexico and you can tell the owner there really knows what they’re doing.

Local hidden gem?
Persian Bites in Fenham for food and Sugar Sands beach in Longhoughton for a sea dip.

An item you couldn’t live without?
It’s not an item but a person, Neil Anderson (AKA Coffee Repair Guy) has kept my business afloat many times over the last 10 years with last minute call outs and repairs.

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