“In school I had my very, very first business selling trolls and rubbers… until I got caught. I used to take orders for different coloured haired trolls and then go to the wholesalers and pick them out.”
This was Natalie’s answer when we asked her how all of this first started. It wasn’t an answer we were expecting, but one that makes perfect sense. We’ve all go to start somewhere – think of Richard Branson slinging vinyl out of a wheelbarrow as a teenager. To think that LEAF was built on trolls with fluorescent hair.LEAF started off as a tiny tea shop in Static Gallery and over the years has evolved into a community of like minded people that appreciate good quality food and drink in an imaginative environment. We met up with Natalie Haywood, Founder and Managing Director of LEAF to find out about the last 5 years.
Where did the idea for LEAF come from?
“I’ve always loved venues. I love interiors. I love food. I love music. I love going on holiday and sitting in cafes in capital cities and just mooching around. I just love cafe culture and discovering new things. I wanted to open a cafe because I wanted a venue. I wanted a coffee shop but didn’t think I could compete because at the time Starbucks was really trendy and everybody was into their “skinny vanilla mocha lattes”. I really thought the environments of these places were awful, really stayed and unimaginative. I thought they did tea really badly and realised that tea was this massive emerging market. For a country that was built on tea, we do it really badly. So I decided to open a tea shop, and didn’t for a minute think it would be any good. But we were only in Static for 6 months but it started to become quite cool and an underground gem.”
From Static, LEAF moved to Elevator on Parliament Street (now The Baltic Social), and from Elevator to Bold Street. Undoubtedly LEAF and Natalie herself had evolved since the Static opening, and by the time that they moved into LEAF it was instantly a hit with people making comparisons to renowned venues from Berlin, London, Paris. But that journey from venue to venue was the making of it being a success.
Did you ever think it’d become so popular?
“No! I can’t even think about it though. Can’t really look back and think about it because it makes me feel – woah! If I actually thought about it i’d probably freak out. You fight away behind the scenes and you work dead hard and overcome loads of stuff but it’s never about hitting the target, its always about the journey. You never get time to appreciate what it is that you have achieved or any of that stuff, which I think sometimes is a bit of shame. You’ve got to though because it won’t go on forever and you’ve got to enjoy yourself. Somebody said to me you’ll never do anything as good as LEAF again, but I was a bit like, “really”? But the thing that is going to be hard to replicate from LEAF is that we picked an amazing building on an amazing street in the best city ever, and it just appeals to so many different people. What’s really interesting to me is that I can talk to an old Granny and she will be like “I love it!”, and then I can go and talk to a student or a middle aged Mum and Dad and they will be like “I love it, too! We go before we go the cinema” – that’s what’s really nice, it hasn’t excluded anyone.”
During the last sips of our brew, we asked Natalie, one of Liverpool’s most successful entrepreneurs, what her advice was for the next wave of makers and shakers.
“People starting out need to be so tenacious. There’s been so many times I’ve wanted to walk away, but you can’t, and you have to be dead passionate because it’s only your passion that gets you through, isn’t it? Nothing else will get you through – it’s not the money, the lack of sleep and lack of seeing your mates. There’s no point starting a business unless you’re absolutely passionate about it in my opinion. These are all cliches that you read but they’re definitely true. It’s the only thing that gets you through the dark times, and there’s so many dark times.”
LEAF is the kind of place where new relationships start, where old lovers end, where business meetings confirm dreams and where best friends catch up. LEAF is something to everyone and we’d like to thank it personally for all they’ve done for our own lives and everybody else’s. They’re having a huge and free party tonight to celebrate. There’s live music, food and drinks and it plans to be a lot of fun. Head down for a drink and toast to the next five years. Check out the events page here.