I walked in to the Federal site in the Northern Quarter of Manchester for the first time in January 2015. I was talking to this guy behind the counter about coffee and having a general chat about Manchester but thought nothing of it.
Several visits later, after getting hooked on the Hodson coffee blend and the ridiculously good brunch offering, I realised that the guy I was chatting to was Claudio, the owner of Federal.
This happens a lot to Claudio, mainly because without admitting to the man crush too much, the guy looks good for 37. I look older than Claudio! (I’m 29 for those that don’t know but I’ve had a tough paper round)
For those that aren’t familiar with the series, I’ve decided to do a take on ‘Humans of New York’ but for people who call Manchester home.
People of MCR will try and tell the story of this incredible city and all the people who contribute to it being the fastest growing city in Europe.
So how does this work? I will get each person to tell me their story in their own words of how they got to where they are today. I will share that story along with some photos for context.
Each person featured will then be asked the same question – Why Manchester?
Claudio grew up in Portugal before deciding to move to Worksop (near Sheffield) of all places. He literally moved after taking a job in hospitality working in a hotel. Hospitality has always run in the family. His mum owns a restaurant in Portugal and his brother is a chef in New York.
Claudio worked his way up the ladder in the Hotel industry, having done pretty much every role there is. He eventually took the General Manager role at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Manchester.
Claudio admits that the first 3 years were difficult, as he tried to improve financial and customer satisfaction KPI’s as you’d expect in a top hotel group. However, towards the end of his time at the hotel, the systems he had implemented were working, he’d delegated a lot of his responsibility and started to get itchy feet again.
One lunch break walk from the hotel in the Northern Quarter would then change Claudio and his family’s life.
Claudio walked past what was the Sunshine Bistro and thought this would be the perfect location for the first Federal site, despite not knowing what he even wanted to do with the space at the time.
There and then on his lunch break he asked the owner, who was working there at the time, how much did she want for the site. They agreed a value with Claudio walking away to finalise the purchase.
Getting home to his wife Emily, he literally said, “I’ve just bought a café and we need to do something with it…” At the time, Claudio was saving towards a wedding; however, he had to use all of the life savings to buy Federal.
It works differently in Portugal where he then got married. Typically people charge a certain amount per head for people to attend the wedding, but in doing that, everyone pays for everyone else’s wedding. He realised he would now need to invite a lot more Portuguese people to even manage to pay for the wedding.
He literally paid the wedding suppliers in cash on the night from what he had received from guests.
I’m not telling you this to get too personal about Claudio’s financial means, I just want to share this with you to understand what it takes to go it alone. I’ve not met a successful person yet who hasn’t had to take calculated risks and go all in on an opportunity.
Coming home from the wedding, Claudio had to work out what to do with the empty space in the Northern Quarter. He started talking to Stuart, a friend he knew from skydiving, who was looking for an investment opportunity.
Claudio jotted down a rough business plan on a piece of paper there and then. Even in his own admission, it was optimistic at best. Little did he know at the time, that both sites would go on to surpass that optimistic forecast.
On another chance meeting, Claudio was in Sheffield when someone recommended he tried Tamper Coffee. When he visited the site, he bumped into the owner John. After a short discussion; they formed a partnership to bring the same Australian/New Zealand coffee and brunch offering to Manchester.
Tamper was already partnered with Ozone coffee roasters at the time who are based in London. It was this relationship that would really help Claudio in the early stages of the Federal concept.
After the renovations were finished, the site opened under the name Federal. Claudio admits that they did the best they could with the budget they had.
A lot of the renovation work was done by the family themselves. Still to this day, due to the small size of the site, they only buy in the required stock for each day’s service. This keeps wastage down to a minimum with no available walk-in fridge or freezer space.
After the first 3 months of being open, the site really struggled. Suppliers and wages needed to be paid so they had to invest more money. Stuart invested again, as did Claudio to allow the business to continue. With a little help from the bank, they had what they needed to keep the doors open, but they had to make it a success.
Claudio was still working full time at the hotel at this point to make sure he could keep a roof over his head.
John eventually decided that he wasn’t going to invest and went back to Sheffield to continue with Tamper. At the same time, Claudio had to borrow more from family to buy out his business partner, who wanted to move on to different ventures in South Africa.
Things then started to take off. If you’ve ever been to Federal, you will realise that there are usually queues out of the door every weekend and there’s a reason for this.
The staff they hire are renowned for being some of the nicest people you’ve ever met. Even when they’re busy, running round like mad trying to help everyone get the coffee and food they need, they still have time to chat. Not in a way that’s American fake niceness, they genuinely care about all of the regulars and people who visit the sites.
This is why they go through 1,300 eggs per day…
Federal found that winning formula but it doesn’t sit still. Australia and New Zealand are usually a year ahead of the UK in the breakfast and coffee world. With the support from his brother’s ideas in New York Claudio and the team update the menu on a regular basis.
3 years after the Northern Quarter site opened, the partnership with Ozone is going from strength to strength and they’ve opened the second site on Deansgate where I sat down with Clauido to do the interview. I recorded it like I always do so I can write it up afterwards.
Despite trying to do the interview when it was quiet, the waiting list filled up in minutes and the atmosphere meant I could barely hear the recording. Which makes me laugh, because when Claudio originally decided to open a new site on Deansgate, he told me he was worried about maintaining that rush at two locations. Knowing how good the place is, I told him it wouldn’t take long for it to be a success.
I asked Claudio what the plan is for the future. This led to a tour into the basement underneath Deansgate. I didn’t even know there was this whole un-used world in old Manchester buildings that you’ve probably walked over a number of times without knowing it.
Claudio is now also looking to move to new cities with Edinburgh and Leeds at the top of the list. There’s no doubt, that with Emily and the team involved, it will go on to be an amazing success.
One thing that made me realise why Claudio has turned Federal into a success is what he’s been able to do in small locations with low number of covers. He’s obsessed with the details down to how long people spend on an order, the method of how people pay, how and when he orders food stock on a just in time basis, the fact that the menus are made from recycled coffee cups, he even reviews each social media post that goes out to ensure it’s on brand.
Federal is like a family. The staff live together, they even end up in relationships with Federal weddings and Federal babies. I genuinely think this is one of the secrets behind the success of the brand. I also think it’s just the start for Claudio and his family.
When asked why Manchester? Claudio talked about the ability to build something here, “Manchester is special because it’s still the best place for an independent business to make a go of it and that’s why it made sense to open Federal here. There’s a diverse mix of people and businesses here with a demand for new offerings, something that’s a bit different. You just can’t ignore that Mancunian community spirit.”
Huge thanks to Claudio for taking time out of his busy week and family time to do this interview with me. Make sure you follow Federal on social media @federalcafebar for updates on their amazing staff, coffee, brunch and the exciting things they have in the pipeline.