Britain’s most heartwarming breakfast spot

What would you fork out for the cafe where YOU choose how much to pay? Welcome to Britain’s most heartwarming breakfast spot

  • Nothing to suggest from the outside this is the most heart-warming cafe in UK
  • Customers are encouraged to boil their own eggs and toast their own crumpets 
  • Eggs & Bread cafe visitors don’t have to pay a penny if they feel they can’t

There is nothing to suggest from the outside that this is the most heart-warming cafe in Britain. 

Seated at wooden communal tables, customers cradle cups of coffee and stare out at the bustling morning traffic, while others sink buttered soldiers into perfectly boiled eggs.

There are mothers with children, pensioners and workers tapping away at their laptops and phones.

It might seem strange that there are no menus on the table and no waiters to bring the food. 

In fact, customers are encouraged to boil their own eggs and toast their own crumpets at the rear of the warmly lit dining area. But what truly sets the Eggs & Bread cafe apart is the fact that none of its visitors will be expected to pay a penny.

At Eggs & Bread cafe Walthamstow, East London, breakfast is free – regardless of who you are or what you earn. Andrea Santo (pictured), a clinical child psychologist from Portugal, puts in £10 for a simple breakfast of eggs and water

Here in Walthamstow, East London, breakfast is free – regardless of who you are or what you earn.   

A mixed crowd trudges in when Eggs & Bread opens for business (although not for profit) at 7am. There are early risers ready for the morning commute into the capital and some who have no job at all, seeking warmth after a night on the streets

‘It’s simple really,’ says Guy Wilson, a 39-year-old City worker who founded the cafe in September and runs it part-time.

‘If people want to make a contribution they can, but it’s anonymous. We don’t want there to be a distinction between who gives and who doesn’t.

‘The whole point is it’s just a breakfast for anyone who wants it. So we will never acknowledge what people contribute because we’re quite happy for anyone to come here and have it for no cost.

‘I don’t care if you’re a banker, a millionaire or a homeless person. Everyone’s got just as much right as anybody else.’

The ‘menu’ is admittedly brief – boiled eggs, toast and porridge, orange juice, tea and coffee. But it is hugely popular, all the same.

A mixed crowd trudges in when Eggs & Bread opens for business (although not for profit) at 7am. There are early risers ready for the morning commute into the capital and some who have no job at all, seeking warmth after a night on the streets.

One man comes in wearing a black beanie hat pulled tight around the top of his ears, and a thick, worn fleece. He looks up at the cafe owner without smiling and silently makes himself two eggs with two slices of toast. He eats in silence and leaves without uttering a word – or paying.

‘It’s simple really,’ says Guy Wilson (pictured), a 39-year-old City worker who founded the cafe in September and runs it part-time

But that, says Guy, is the point of this brave social experiment: the man is homeless and can’t afford it. ‘He’s in here a lot. He likes some peace and quiet.’

Come 8am and the cafe is alive. There’s an onslaught of screaming schoolchildren who love the idea of cooking their own eggs. There’s a primary school down the road, Guy explains, and the cafe has become an unexpected hit.

Sisters Apolonia, seven, and Olympia, five, tuck into big bowls of porridge for which their mum Aga Wood, 44, donates £1 while urging them not to get any on their clean red uniforms.

‘They never eat porridge at home but they eat it here,’ she shrugs. ‘Don’t ask me why. I don’t have a clue.’

Five-year-old Olympia Wood enjoys her breakfast at Walthamstow’s Eggs and Bread cafe 

Sisters Apolonia, seven, and Olympia, five, tuck into big bowls of porridge for which their mum Aga Wood, 44, donates £1 while urging them not to get any on their clean red uniforms (pictured: Olympia and Apolonia Wood, with Hannah Laryea)

As the school rush starts to slow, in comes 29-year-old mother-of-three Chantelle Morgan and her little girl, Marny.

They munch on buttered toast and take big slurps of orange juice. Chantelle says the cafe helps people ‘who’ve got nothing’ – but it’s helping her in a different way.

‘I live round the corner,’ she says. ‘My daughter loves it here. We come in every morning and put in £2 a day.

‘It’s changed the way we think about mornings. We have more time together. I look after elderly people for a living, I’m a carer. I work 9am to 6pm so we don’t get much time together after school.

‘Before we started coming here we used to just be rushing around. Breakfast was a piece of toast in the car to eat on the way to school. Now I leave ten minutes early so we can come here and have this time together. It’s so much better.’

Another mum arrives and sits at a table near the window with her son, too young for school. For 39-year-old Natasha Fleming, a stay-at-home mum, this is their ‘second breakfast’ and she will pay £5.

Her four-year-old, Arthur, nods in agreement as he bashes a boiled egg with a spoon. ‘If we were at home I’d get distracted doing the cleaning or something. Here we chat,’ Natasha explains. ‘I don’t go to other cafes often because it’s a lot of money for a coffee I could make at home.

For 39-year-old Natasha Fleming (with four-year-old son Arthur), a stay-at-home mum, this is their ‘second breakfast’ and she will pay £5

‘But I want to come here. You get to meet proper Walthamstow, lots of types of people. That’s very important to me.’

Walthamstow has traditionally been a working-class heartland, but these days it is home to a varied social mix. Some parts have become gentrified, yet just around the corner from the cafe is Vallentin Road which, thanks to a series of violent crimes, led one newspaper to call it ‘the most dangerous road in the UK’.

‘It’s not a bad area but the different people don’t always get a chance to meet,’ says Guy, who grew up locally. The aim of the cafe is, in part, to make sure they do.

When it first opened, Eggs & Bread attracted a largely middle-class crowd, drawn to the trendy pared-back decor. But that, Guy says, has changed.

By 10am the room has been reclaimed by adults. Clare Montgomery, a regular, greets the staff who work in the tiny kitchen in the back – cleaning dishes and making sure supplies don’t dwindle – before choosing a place at the communal table.

Walthamstow has traditionally been a working-class heartland, but these days it is home to a varied social mix

For Clare, 40, who lives round the corner, this place is much more than a cafe. ‘It’s a lifesaver for me,’ she says, plainly. 

‘I have learning disabilities and if this wasn’t here I’d just stay in my flat and be alone. I’d not talk to anybody. Here I come and speak to people about my dogs. They’re allowed in as well. It’s such a great thing for me.’

Her pale blue eyes light up as she speaks. ‘The staff even made me a cake to cheer me up when my dad died. It means the world to me. It feels like a family.’

She shows me pictures of her dogs and says she tries to put £1 in when she can.

Her friend, 58-year-old Wendy Bland, is unemployed and can’t afford to pay. But she is determined to – just as soon as she can.

‘It’s very kind that they don’t make you pay,’ she reflects. ‘I have porridge, two bits of toast with Marmite and a cup of tea. It’s lovely. I am willing to pay, I just don’t have any money now. In the future I will put some money in.’

Her friend, 58-year-old Wendy Bland (pictured), is unemployed and can’t afford to pay. But she is determined to – just as soon as she can

Eating alongside Clare and Wendy is flamboyant equities trader Tunde Adeshokan, 38, who raves about the ‘genius’ of the cafe’s concept before contributing a fiver for his two eggs and two slices of toast.

Across from him is a video maker in his 30s who describes it earnestly as an ‘anti-gentrification cafe’ as he dips soldiers into his two eggs, for which he has also paid £5.

An out-of-work garden designer pays £1.50 for eggs and crumpets with jam. ‘Slightly weird combo, I know,’ he shrugs with a grin.

But then, in this establishment, it seems that anything goes. At 10.20am Errol Servina strides in. 

Flamboyant equities trader Tunde Adeshokan, 38, who raves about the ‘genius’ of the cafe’s concept before contributing a fiver for his two eggs and two slices of toast

Errol Servina (pictured), an outreach manager for a charity with a neatly trimmed beard and a smart beige coat, he says: ‘I’m probably one of the most regular customers’

A 42-year-old outreach manager for a charity with a neatly trimmed beard and a smart beige coat, he says: ‘I’m probably one of the most regular customers,’ before placing his two eggs in water and putting the automatic timer on. He comes in for breakfast without fail every weekday, paying £3 a time.

‘There’s a lot of people here who will have preconceived ideas about race, colour, social standing – the fact that there’s a few rough sleepers in here,’ he continues. ‘Ordinarily I wouldn’t know these guys. But now I do. When we see each other we have real conversations. If people know each other more you can build a sense of community.

‘I think that’s important. To build that sense of community in a place like this – a place that’s a tale of two cities – is phenomenal.’

On his way out, he nods a hello to Wayne Bolley who has paid £2 for two boiled eggs, toast, a cup of tea and a banana.

Wayne, 38, currently works for the FedEx delivery firm, but says he’s been frequently laid off. ‘I wouldn’t normally come to a place like this. I’d never normally come to breakfast. But because I like it in here and I feel welcome I come.

‘I think it’s great. It really helps me out.’

Wayne, 38 (pictured), currently works for the FedEx delivery firm, but says he’s been frequently laid off. ‘I wouldn’t normally come to a place like this. I’d never normally come to breakfast. But because I like it in here and I feel welcome I come’

Some, of course, are in a position to pay more generously.

Andrea Santo, a clinical child psychologist from Portugal, puts in £10 for a simple breakfast of eggs and water. ‘I’m happy to pay that much because there’s no pressure,’ she explains.

‘You can contribute one day and not the next and still have breakfast. There’s just something special about this place. You feel it. There’s no agenda. People can just be. There’s so much diversity in one room.’ Glamorous with dark, curly hair, she says the cafe is unique.

‘I feel really happy when I come here,’ she beams. ‘I feel like a little child. I think it could be therapeutic for people to spend time in a place like this.’

But even with the odd tenner from its most generous patrons, can the business truly be viable?

The answer is no. Guy says that the donations are unpredictable, amounting to anything from £8 to £100 a day. And while food costs are low – 75p per head, and £1.50 to include overheads – the whole project has running costs, including 12 paid members of staff.

But even with the odd tenner from its most generous patrons, can the business truly be viable? The answer is no. Guy says that the donations are unpredictable, amounting to anything from £8 to £100 a day

‘It’s making a loss at the moment,’ admits Guy, as the cafe begins to wind to a close at 11am.

‘But we’re only nine months in. The aim is it’ll be self-sufficient in one or two years.’

One plan involves opening in the evenings to sell takeaway pasta boxes priced at £4.

‘The idea is that the evenings will fund the day times.’

Single, and without children, he has invested a lot of his own money in the enterprise.

‘No one here is treated as a charity case,’ Guy continues. 

‘One of the things I’ve never liked is people patronising people. Everyone’s here as an equal. There are no payers and receivers. No one’s getting a thank-you card and no one should feel grateful. There’s no political statement. It’s just about having a decent breakfast. There’s nothing more complicated to it than that.’

Eggs & Bread, which has relied until now on word of mouth, came to attention earlier this month when an apparently angry customer tweeted that he’d spent an extraordinary £20 on ‘a boiled egg, one piece of toast and a mug of tea’.

Eggs & Bread, which has relied until now on word of mouth, came to attention earlier this month when an apparently angry customer tweeted that he’d spent an extraordinary £20 on ‘a boiled egg, one piece of toast and a mug of tea’

The real story for Guy, however, is the heartwarming discovery that most of his customers are astonishingly kind 

‘The story of a modern London cafe,’ he seemed to rail – before explaining that the ‘cost’ was, in fact, a donation. The tweet was liked more than 100,000 times, suggesting the whole concept has struck a chord.

The real story for Guy, however, is the heartwarming discovery that most of his customers are astonishingly kind.

‘Before it opened, everyone was telling me it wouldn’t work. They said people would just take advantage. Steal all the eggs, steal the money, do drugs in the loos. None of that has happened. It shows how trusted people can be. I think if you give people trust, they give it back.

‘I’ve always been a big believer in people. I don’t think that they always have the opportunity to show it but, if given the chance, all sorts of different people come together and are respectful of each other. It’s proven that people are generally quite nice.’

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