Rachel Stanners spoke to Preethi Sundaram and Jo Chevalier at her home in Brixton about their first endeavour to run their own café called PJ’s at the Making Uncovered event in April at the Brixton East Gallery.
Preethi and Jo both started out their lives in Brixton by renting a room from me and now have found their own flats with their partners nearby.
In a planning meeting I attended about Making Uncovered I heard we needed someone to organise a café for the event and immediately thought of Preethi and Jo. Both of them are fantastic hosts. Preethi has always wanted to set up her own café and is always creating new delicious recipes, and Jo is the baker in my life and another fellow creative. I knew together they would make a perfect team.
I proposed the idea over dinner one night but asked them to think carefully about whether or not they could manage it around their demanding jobs. Jo is a primary school teacher at Sudbourne Primary School and Preethi works as a women’s rights campaigner for the Fawcett society. Lucky for us, they agreed!
How long have you lived in Brixton?
Preethi: One year, since March 2012.
Jo: Nearly four years now.
Why did you decide to do the café?
Preethi: Because you asked us to!
Jo: Because you bullied us into it!
Preethi: No seriously, Making Uncovered sounded like an exciting, fun and creative event being run in our local community and we wanted to be a part of it.
Have you ever done anything like this before?
Preethi: Not before this event, although lots of people at the event thought we did run a café full-time and asked us where it was!
What were you most looking forward to?
Preethi: Making a relaxed and fun environment for people to hang out in.
Jo: Making a pretty space. And the cakes!
What were you most nervous about?
Jo: Giving someone food poisoning!!
Preethi: Managing to organise it well when we are both so busy.
What went into organising the event?
Jo: We had a couple of meetings in which we delegated tasks.
Preethi: It was actually quite relaxed. We overlapped our jobs quite a bit but generally I was in charge of finding bakers and Jo was in charge of the aesthetics.
So who made all the delicious cakes?
Preethi: We tried to get some of the Makerhood bakers to help but unfortunately they weren’t available at the time so we ended up recruiting everyone we knew! Each of us baked…
Jo: … and I recruited fellow teachers, even a mum from school and lots of my friends. We also had friends and family of the Makerhood team. We were overwhelmed by how kind everyone was to volunteer and their refusal to accept payment for their ingredients. We are really grateful to them.
How did you go about decorating the café?
Preethi: We emptied our houses and put it all into the space! The design idea was to be simple and pretty.
Jo: We had a grey and yellow theme and lots of decorations but when we got to the venue we realised it didn’t need very much. It was a dream venue that really spoke for itself.
How did you feel it went?
Preethi: We loved it! It felt like a raving success. I was surprised by how much we sold. We sold everything – except some sweeties.
Jo: We were so pleased with how pretty the space looked and surprised how well it went, considering we had no previous experience. I was amazed at how much people love tea and cake.
Would you do it again?
Jo: We made a happy space and it was lovely to see friends chatting over tea and cake and really appreciate it.
Preethi: It made me want to open my own place. I can see there is a lot of joy in serving people a simple cup of tea. I loved interacting with strangers and meeting people from Jo’s school.
Jo: I think almost the whole of Sudbourne showed up!
Why do you love Brixton?
Jo: It’s an eclectic cocktail of people and places, and no day ever feels the same.
Preethi: It’s so vibrant! It feels like a place on the brink of something big and exciting happening.
What are your favourite Brixton spots?
Jo: Rosies. It was the first place I went to in the village. It had bunting in it and I knew straight away I would be happy here in Brixton.
Preethi: My favourite spot is at the top of Brockwell Park – you can see all of the city of London. It’s a fantastic view!