Last Friday, Starfish & Coffee, a new cafe opened here in Queens Park. I sat down, with Tony Marks, the owner for a chat about the opening over a Peach Iced Tea.
The late-night radio presenter for Juice Brighton joked about how he is usually the one asking the questions, as we dived into conversation about the meaning behind the name of the cafe.
The coffee shop is named after the Prince song. Tony, who has been obsessed with the singer since he was around 13 years old, wanted the name to mean something to him. It made sense for the name to come from his idol, who wrote and recorded the song for his ninth studio album Sign O’ the Times in 1987.
Tony mentions controversy over the name as some people don’t know the song. He goes on to talk about those that do; “I’ll be sitting here, you know, working away.” He smiles; “Someone will see it from across the street and start singing the song.”
He really loves that but adds; “You don’t have to be a Prince fan to like the cafe.” Although some days he admits Prince songs will be playing on repeat.
Behind Tony on the wall, is a large and colourful cartoon painted by local artist, Adam Moore which was inspired by the song. Tony hints that around the coffee shop, there are certain subtle quirks related to the song but won’t give them away because he wants his customers to figure them out themselves.
Tony started his working career training to be a chef and worked at the Savoy Hotel, his family have also a background in food. But the path from leaving school to opening his first cafe wasn’t straight forward. It diverted after he went travelling and caught the ‘bug’ for radio.
He studied media at University and has been a radio presenter for 14 years, in Birmingham, London, Oxford, Crawley and now here in Brighton. He has been at Juice for 8 out of the 10 years that he has lived in Brighton and continues to do it whilst he runs the cafe, presenting on Monday and Tuesday evenings.
“It’s a great job but its not that reliable, and I didn’t want to get to a point where radio was drying up for me,” Tony said.
He wanted to stay in Brighton but knew he needed to do something else; “I looked back at my catering background and thought I wanna open a cafe.” When he saw that this location next to Queen’s Park was available, he knew it would be something ‘special’ and that it was time to take the plunge.
Tony is very proud of what he has achieved, opening the cafe alone, but says he has had a lot of emotional support.
He begins to open up about how much work has gone into transforming the space, into Starfish & Coffee, mentioning how everyone who got involved was extremely local. “The guy who did my tiles lives there, the guy who painted the outside of the building and a lot of the inside, he lives literally just over there, the carpenter lives on Lewes Road, the electrician lives two streets over on Albion Hill, the person who makes our cakes lives just down Freshfield Road there!” Tony says pointing to all the nearby streets.
The menu’s ingredients are just as locally sourced as those who got involved. Tony boasts about their fresh produce coming from local farms, how the cakes come in fresh every morning from the local artisan and bakery, and how the coffee is from Coffee at 33, who by the way know coffee better than ‘anyone’ in Brighton, according to him.
Not only is the food ethical but it is also brunch! When deciding on what to serve, Tony looked at what he knew and what he is good at. Every Sunday morning, him and his girlfriend try and make their own brunch or go to somewhere they haven’t been to before, whether that be in Brighton or in London. He is happy to say that his menu comprises of their favourite things from the places they’ve visited. If he was going to have brunch somewhere other than Starfish & Coffee in Brighton he highly recommends V&H, Marmalades and The Village.
Brunch was the obvious choice to him not only because he loves it, but because it is more of an ‘affordable luxury’ than dinner or lunch, as people don’t have buckets of money.
So far the cafe has been booming, the first three days of opening they completely ran out of food, and barely had an empty table. Tony stumbles, grabbing for the right words to explain how he feels; ‘I never expected this, I knew people were interested and keen to see what we were doing but I had no idea the whole of Hanover and Queens Park were all gunna come at the same time.” He says he is completely overwhelmed and humbled by the reaction Starfish & Coffee has received.
Local people popped their heads into the cafe and wished them well before they even opened. “It’s so nice to get to know neighbours,” he says as he anticipates that he will meet more people through this venture than he ever did in radio.
Right now the hours of the cafe are flexible due to the newness of the coffee shop. But generally the cafe is open from 8am – 3pm on weekdays. Visit them at the end of the street at 32 Egremont Place and try your best to spot the Prince related quirks.