Gillian McIntyre - The Cran - Something Brewed

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>
Co-owner of The Cran coffee shop and Something Brewed Coffee Bar - Glasgow

How did you get into coffee?

Gillian started working in cafes when she was at uni, which is how she first got into coffee.  After a stint in a TV sound and tech department, she went back into a café as a stop gap while she figured out what she wanted to do next.

Fast forward two years and Gillian was managing one of Glasgow’s Tinderbox stores. “While I was at Tinderbox, my manager and now friend taught me a lot, including latte art, dialling in and tasting espresso. But when she left there was no-one who knew more than me, so I wasn’t able to learn more on the job. In my spare time I was frequenting speciality coffee shops and wanted to learn more, including roasting and eventually I got a job at Avenue Coffee.

I was really keen to be around the roaster and to be hands-on involved in cupping, new ways of making coffee, learning all about the processes and the journey from the farm to landing in UK. From the roast to the cup was really fascinating for me.”

And around a year later, Gillian and her partner Craig started Something Brewed Coffee Bar. “We were getting married and really wanted good coffee at our wedding but couldn’t find a coffee bar that would work for us. So, we decided to create and build our own coffee bar which our friends kindly operated on the day. Then when we got back from our honeymoon we got on to developing our business and nailing down our brand and USP.

After a few months of juggling my now manager position at Avenue, as well as my own business, my mental health wasn’t doing well. So, I left Avenue and took 6 months out to recover and build up Something Brewed. During that time, I worked a lot of freelance shifts for different coffee shops including Brew Lab during the Edinburgh Festival.  Serving speciality coffee on a massive scale was a really great experience.”

During this time Lisa from Dear Green put Gillian in touch with someone who was opening a coffee shop and needed some consultancy support. “He was new to the industry and asked if I could work in the shop to help him get set up, it was going to be called The Cran. This changed quickly to an invitation to put Something Brewed into The Cran as his first pop-up and within a couple of months the owner wanted us to take over the whole shop. It’s still based on his business model but we’ve made it functional and profitable. It’s now a hub that we can use for Something Brewed consultations with our couples for tasters and samples, and on their anniversaries we ask them back for a cake and coffee.“

What do you love about being in speciality coffee?

Gillian’s big passion is hospitality. “I love the regulars in our shop. I love that we can make a difference to people who come into our shop, to be here for them if they’re having a tough time, or a good time.” When Gillian’s talking to people she’s in her comfort zone.

That people element is strong too in Gillian’s love of the sense of community and camaraderie in coffee - especially within her circle of friends. She describes them as “all 30ish and have gotten a bit disillusioned with working for other people, but in our little coffee part of the world we can have a positive impact and connect with so many other people.”

And this sense of belonging extends beyond Gillian’s local friends and contacts. “When we went on our honeymoon we used the European Coffee Trip website and literally went from shop to shop. In speciality coffee it doesn’t matter where you go, you can be surrounded by like-minded people who love what they do as well as having a passion for exploring the taste and flavours. It’s a subculture we’re all part of - and the continual learning is a big factor. That’s why I did the UK Barista Championships, it allowed me to learn more and explore. When you’re running your own business you’re responsible for your own development. You need to go out of your way to stay involved in groups and cuppings”. 

What would tell someone who was considering a career in coffee?

Gillian’s says they get a lot of people coming into The Cran who want to get into specialty coffee on the bar. 

“For you to be a desirable person to hire, you can do as many certificates or coffees as possible, but you need to have served a lot of customers and experience working in a fast-paced coffee shop. You need the service side because it all works together.”

Gillian finds coffee quite easy to teach to people who can retain technical information and have good attention to detail. And having the passion about coffee is great, but the coffee can’t be more important than the experience you’re giving customers. “There are shops that serve perfect coffee, but the service is lacking. From my perspective, it has to be a good experience. People don’t remember what you said but how you made them feel.” 

In terms of tips for new starters, Gillian’s advice is to become a regular in good coffee shops. “Get to know how they work, their standards of products and customer service and they will get to know you. I can’t comment too much about getting into roasteries or Q grading - I quickly realised that roasting wasn’t my focus and it wasn’t going to be the thing that gave me the most enjoyment. 

There are so many routes you can go down. People I’ve worked with are now trainers or heads of operations who assure quality across different companies around the world. When you go the World of Coffee events you discover there are a whole range of options. At the end of the day if it’s in the cup and it tastes amazing that’s what I’m into. You need to find out what you enjoy most, but the journey itself can be fun.

It all starts with the coffee drinker. Talk to people who work in coffee shops, attend cuppings, workshops, explore options for you to learn more about it even if you don’t work there. Try and get as much experience as you can working with customers. Café experience is the number one - then you don’t need to be taught about how to deal with customers and you can focus on learning about coffee.”

What’s it like being a woman in the coffee industry?

Gillian’s initial response is to say she tends not to think about it. “Not that I’m blanking it out but I don’t really notice until I’m sitting down at a coffee get together with 12 guys and I’m the only woman owner. I never would have completed a technical science degree or worked with a tech TV department if I was worried about that. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my opportunities and being a woman has never been an issue.”

But then Gillian went on to talk about her experience attending a Business Womens’ Awards event. “I was thinking why do they have women’s awards? Why do we separate ourselves?” But, she says, “then I heard the stories of women only getting so up so far the ladder. The stats I was hearing were shattering. I’d never been affected by this in my career and I couldn't believe how big of a problem it could be.” 

So now Gillian’s keen to reinforce to people that there’s lot of support on Business Gateway and Scottish Enterprise run events for women once a month where you can learn and hear about other women’s experiences. “It’s inspiring to see how far we’ve grown as a population in business in terms of equality, but when you look at the stats there’s still so far to go. Especially with maternity and career ladders, women can only go so far in many companies. In cafes I’ve seen quite a mix of male and female baristas and managers, but when it gets to ownership there’s something stopping women doing it. Scotland’s coffee scene is doing well but there is still more to be done.” 

Since Gillian went to the Women’s Business Awards she’s been seeing it more. “The way society talks to each other. The way things are said, phrases, comments that downplay women. Films that really anger me that I never thought about, but now I’ve picked up on it I notice it. In my everyday life I pick up on it so much more. And it all plays a part in meaning it’s not as much in women’s heads to say ‘I’ll just do it myself, and take the risks.’  But there is a shift happening now for the better.

I am lucky that I was brought up to think that I can be anyone I want to be. My parents are older and worked with the hand they were dealt. I’ve never thought twice about starting a business or becoming a manager. They did a good job.”


Side note about mental health

Gillian mentioned in her interview that at one stage she went through a particularly tough time with her mental health. I asked a little more about this and what messages she’d like people to know. 

“The main point I want people to understand is that mental health fluxes over time. Just like if you break your leg, after the proper rest and care you’re better. I had my dream job which I was great at but had burnt myself out by criticising myself too much which manifested into anxiety. I had to step back and change the way I think about a couple of things so I could be more effective again.  Lots of employers don’t know how to deal with mental health issues. Now I’m an employer I’m very aware of the well-being of my staff so I can help them feel valued and support them if they need help.”

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