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Anticafé: breaking down the barriers

Meet the French startup café that is offering a fresh alternative to elitist co-working spaces with its flexible coffee shop membership

A few years ago, and I am sure all of you will remember those days, working from home was a slightly exotic concept that most companies looked at with great scepticism. Only some progressive tech companies from Silicone Valley were happy to let their employees take the liberty to decide if they wanted to come into the office or not. Most of their meetings were held via video conferencing anyways. But for the self-employed amongst us, there wasn’t much choice when it came to picking a practical, flexible workspace, except the café down the street.

Laptops welcoe

Laptops welcoe

Before the likes of Wework, Spaces and all the other co-working spaces that have mushroomed across the world, the café was the logical destination where you could set up camp for the day, work on your blog, have meetings and possibly have some lunch too. However, not all café owners liked this development, with many imposing restrictions on their wifi or not offering any wifi at all. So, what do you do if a Wework membership is too pricey or you only need a flexible workspace every now and again?

Welcome to your new office

Welcome to your new office

The answer could be Anticafé from Paris. Never heard of these guys before? Well, unless you live in France or you’re really involved in the startup scene, you probably won’t know them, but that needs to change. The concept is simple, yet incredibly successful and it perfectly addresses the needs I mentioned earlier: flexible workspace + bottomless coffee.

“In the 60’s there were 300.000 cafés in France. Now there are only 30.000 left …

It was time for some fresh air.”

Founded by Ukrainian national Leonid Goncharov back in 2013, Anticafé aimed to fill a gap in the market by offering a simple and affordable membership-based product where you pay only for the time spent there and not for what you consume. In a city where a flat white easily sets you back €6 and free wifi is not a given, this concept is truly revolutionary.

Over a cup of coffee at the first ever Anticafé in Chatelet, Leonid told me of his struggle to find initial support for his idea. “People just didn’t believe this could work. There was this old-fashioned mindset that a café is a café is a café and a place where you would get unlimited food and coffee for a set amount simply couldn’t succeed. 13 Anticafés all over France in some in other European cities later, I think we proved them wrong,” he said with a laugh.

Top-notch equipment

Top-notch equipment

To many people, thoughts of Paris evoke this idea of charming cafés with leaves blowing through the autumn streets and singing waiters wearing berets, but according to Yann Charlotte, Business Developer at Anticafé and my guide, that is precisely the reason why so many cafés closed in the last few decades. “In the 60’s there were 300.000 cafés in France and now there are only 30.000 left,” he said. “The hypothesis is that they simply never adapted and thereby became more and more obsolete. It’s sad but at the same time, it was an opportunity for us to come in an breathe some fresh air into a stale industry. Together with the wave of specialty coffee shops and roasters, we’re bringing great coffee back to France.”

Friendly baristas

Friendly baristas

Each Anticafé is as unique as the people who work there, taking individual elements from their surroundings and combining them with set components that each café features, such as the coffee bar, the kitchenette with a small breakfast and snack buffet and different seating arrangements that include individual and communal tables as well as meeting rooms, booths and so on.

Naturally, my focus was also largely on the quality of the coffee, which is supplied by our friends from Coutume and prepared using only the best equipment, but still has some room for improvement. Leonid admitted that coffee is indeed very important and they were looking at ways to give their baristas more training to bring them up to the same level as other specialty coffee shops in the city. After visiting a total of three Anticafés in one day and meeting many of the wonderful store managers and baristas, I know the ambition is there.

While Anticafé truly caters to digital needs of freelancers and startup founders, there are still many nice analogue touches that you can find throughout. From board games that bring whole families into the cafés to book exchanges and handwritten signs that can be hung onto laptop screens with messages like: ‘Looking for graphic designer’ or ‘Any techies out there?’

The latter would probably work best at Anticafé’s fancy Station F outlet, Europe’s biggest startup incubator. The size of the building is truly breathtaking and everyone from Amazon to Google and Facebook have representatives there. Anticafé acts like a reception area where people can get together without the need for a visitor’s pass.

Art made by Anticafé members

Art made by Anticafé members

There is a sense that in today’s world, startups and founders, in general, are often given god-like statuses (often totally undeserved) and have created a new business elite that has separated itself from the rest. Places like Wework encourage this, in my view, by making their offices look fancy but at the same time slightly foreboding.

Kitchenette with basics

Kitchenette with basics

Anticafé, on the other hand, offers precisely what many people look for in a flexible workspace without the elitism. And the best part? They’re actively looking for franchise partners who want to join their movement and open new locations across Europe.

Are you interested in getting involved? Send us a message and we can hook you up with the right contact.

Anticafé prices: €5 for 1 hour, €24 for 1 day or €240 for 1 month. If you are a member, you get 15% off. Students and creatives always get 10% off.

To find an Anticafé near you, visit Anticafé

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