The future’s bright, the future’s…
Many of the more eagle eyed Sheffield residents will have noticed a bright orange coffee shop spring up in the West of the city, on Fulwood Road.
Many people have (rather creatively) nicknamed it, ‘The Orange Coffee Shop’.
However, there is a very serious rationale behind Nam Song Coffee House’s garish facade.
The shop’s owner, Jim Rose, who at 23 is making stirrings in the coffee business, is all by himself this morning except for his two chefs, Alex Tickle, 21 and Harrison Rixham, 24.
His girlfriend Melissa Cartwright, 23, who helps out at the weekends after working full time as a receptionist, is out collecting a shipment of coffee that has been delivered to the wrong address.
As the well informed and the curious make their way into the shop, Jim becomes inundated with orders.
His mum has told him he looks “tired-out” and after the rollercoaster few months he’s had since the business opened, you’d forgive him for showing signs of fatigue.
But once the orders start rolling in, his energy and enthusiasm behind the coffee machine puts his mum’s worries to bed.
Jim was born in Sheffield, and is clearly made of sterner stuff.
From beginnings in Sheffield he went on to university in Loughborough, studying Business Economics and Finance, and graduating in 2014.
He always knew he wanted to set up his own business.
“I don’t like being told what to do” he said with a smile cracking the corners of his mouth.
His first attempt at entrepreneurism was selling dog leads at fairs. When it became clear this wasn’t going to make him his fortune, he and Melissa headed off to Asia to “sack off growing up for a bit”.
They started in Sri Lanka and made their way through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, before reaching Vietnam.
“Vietnam was the best country I’ve ever been to. Everyone’s so nice even though it’s quite an impoverished country. It was uplifting to see their outlook on life.
“On our very first day in Hanoi, we’d got a night bus and got there at what must have been like eight o’clock in the morning, we booked on a city tour, and on the morning of the city tour we went to a cafe. Melissa hates coffee. She hates it as you get it here. But we’d read that when you go to Vietnam you have to try the coffee. So, the first cafe we went to on this morning tour Melissa ordered one with the condensed milk. I love coffee so I loved it straight away but Melissa tried and she was like, ‘oh, this is actually really nice.’ On the bus round for the rest of the way we like we could just make a cafe.”
And so the seeds of Nam Song, which means five rivers in Vietnamese and references the five rivers which Sheffield is built on, were sewn.
As they made their way around Vietnam the very visible reminders of the recent horrors of war that hit the country between 1961 and 1971 became more and more apparent.
As well as learning about the food, they learned about the culture and the atrocities of chemical warfare.
The Americans, from 1962 onwards, employed the tactic of dropping a substance called Agent Orange over the Vietnamese jungles in the South.
It was part of ‘Operation Ranch Hand’, which was designed to defoliate the landscape and leave nowhere for the Vietnamese to hide.
The Vietnamese government claim that as a result of the 20 million gallons of herbicide dropped on Southern Vietnam over 3 million people have suffered health problems and disabilities.
The contamination of the breast milk of women who were directly exposed to the chemicals has led to generations being born with deformities or mental health issues as a result of the toxins brought down on their ancestors by the U. S.
Jim said: “So the place is all orange for a reason. We went to the War Remnants Museum and saw the effects the chemical Agent Orange had on people and the effect it’s still having today. Obviously it’s horrible.
“I knew of the Vietnam War, but didn’t know anything about it. Considering that kids are still being born with the effects today what was harrowing was that we didn’t know anything about it.
“Never taught it at school. Never seen it on TV. So seeing it there was pretty horrible actually.
“We got to thinking that this should be more than just a coffee shop. It should actually positively be able to effect a country we both love.
“We actually want to make a difference and shine a light on, not just the amazing food and drink, and the place and the people, we actually want to make a difference to people who are affected by Agent Orange.
“Obviously it’s all well and good raising awareness, which is what we hope to do with the orange, but we also we need to kind of put something behind it. Commit to raising some money.
“We’ve said from the start that we’ll always give away 10% of our profits to charities who are affected by Agent Orange and to other charities closer to home in England.
“There are two overall goals for this business, one is to set up our own charity for helping Agent Orange. The second aim is to set up our own coffee farm in Vietnam.”
In order to make these aims a reality Jim started working at Marmadukes in order to learn the ropes of the cafe industry.
It was there that he met Frazer of Frazers’s Coffee roasters who roast the beans they now use on an industrial estate in Carbrook, Sheffield.
The beans are grown on the northern mountain regions of Vietnam.
He received a loan of £25k through business Sheffield, and Finance for Enterprise to open the cafe and after finding the right property, there was literally blood, sweat and tears that went into turning the place around before opening.
“Compared to what it was, it’s so bright and vibrant. It’s actually one of the things I’m most proud of. The interior is supposed to look like Hoi An. In Hoi An all of the buildings are either yellow or orange and they were painted however many years ago and have all faded. And it’s meant to look like that.”
They had the help of a Vietnamese chef, called Zong Tang who taught Jim and head chef, Alex how to make traditional Vietnamese cuisine such as Pho and Bahn mi.
“We were worried about what people were going to think about two English guys opening up a Vietnamese cafe. We want to represent a country that we love to the best of our abilities.
“Zong Tang helping us out put to bed any worries we had about authenticity” said Jim.
“We’re not different for the sake of being pretentious or quirky, we’re different because we are representing something that is traditionally Vietnamese.
“We’re not serving coffees out of test tubes. If anyone says we’re hipster – We’re not!’
Jim has big ambitions for the shop: “We want to be known as the best sandwich in Sheffield.
“We had a Vietnamese family in yesterday and they said, ‘Cannot fault it at all’, the only problem they said was that there wasn’t enough of it.
“We’ve had loads of people saying it’s one of the best sandwiches they’ve ever had.”