Chris Charnas is owner and manager of Espresso Bar Mozzino, a café with a retro vibe just off Carnaby Street.
I arrived in the UK on 20 September 2010. My best friend, who lives in London, was celebrating his fortieth birthday and I had promised I would be here to celebrate with him. I had just come out of a nine year relationship, and had worked for the same company for seven years, so when a friend offered me a job in London and another somewhere to live, I knew it was time for a big change in my life. I packed my bags and arrived with no concrete plans, but excited about my future. I’ve now been here over two years and I still feel like a kid in a candy store.
I have recently opened a cafe, Mozzino, just off Carnaby Street. I spend most of my time working, living and breathing the cafe life. I find that the cafe culture in London has become much stronger, with the influence of many Australian and NZ cafe people working here. Being the owner and manager of a cafe in a busy area like Carnaby Street is fierce. The competition is tough, and aggressive, but I get a buzz from it and it makes me more determined to work hard and succeed. I am excited about my work and enjoy the mix of customers that come to the cafe.
Setting up Mozzino has been the greatest highlight of moving to London, and the biggest challenge. I managed a busy cafe in London Bridge for the first year I was here, but I knew that wanted to open my own. A friend of mine shared a similar desire, and had a great concept. After a lot of planning over several good cups of coffee, and a few nervous laughs, Mozzino was born and we set to work. Nine months later we opened our doors.
Starting a business in London is tough, and it isn’t for those who want an easy ride. We financed it ourselves, and the budget was very tight and took a lot of planning. There are all sorts of barriers that need to be overcome – interviews with landlords and mountains of paper work. Trying to understand the difference between running a cafe in London and one in Sydney has been a big challenge, but it’s all worth it.
I think Australians come to the UK initially to be able to travel and see Europe. Once they are here they fall in love with the vibe and craziness of London. It challenges their survival instinct and increases the curiosity for life in the fast lane. Ten years ago Australians would spend a year or two here then go back home. I now find that many Australians come here and stay. Once they experience life here and are successful they find it hard to go back.
I like that here there are so many different people from all over the world in London. It gives me a rush knowing that I am surrounded by so many different nationalities, and seeing how they interact with each other. At Mozzino, we get French customers one minute, Italians the next, then Americans, Japanese, and so it goes on every week. Every day is different from the next. The weather of course is not the best but if you need some sun, you can jump on a plane and be sitting on a beach within about two hours, I love that. I also love the English – they are eccentric but always up for a chat.
When I’m asked what I miss about Australia, the first thing that comes to mind is my family and friends, then the weather. I also miss the laid back lifestyle, the smell of gum trees and the beaches. The light is different as well, the colours in Australia seem brighter and more vivid. I will always think of Australia as home.
My typical weekend involves work of course — we are open seven days a week. Apart from that, catching up with friends and seeing the city. After two years of living in London, I am always surprised when I walk down a street that I haven’t been down before and I come across something new. A small pub hidden away in a lane, old buildings that have survived the modern age, statues or street art, new and old, the mix of new and old London coming together forming the London of today.
There are so many surprises in this city. I find myself standing in the street thinking how lucky I am to be here, and wondering how it all happened. My advice to Australians considering the move — don’t come with any expectations. Immerse yourself in all that London has to offer and enjoy the ride. Rocky and smooth, it’s all good.
Espresso Bar Mozzino can be found on 74 Broadwick Street, W1F 9QZ or see Espressobarmozzino.com.
Interview by Sepi Roshan