Saturday, 08 May 2021

Coffee shop refloats on bigger boat as lockdown eases

Coffee shop refloats on bigger boat as lockdown eases

A FLOATING coffee shop on the River Thames has relaunched following the latest coronavirus lockdown — and it has moved to a different boat.

Café Afloat was opened on board Hibernia, a 75ft cruiser owned by Hobbs of Henley, in December last year.

Melanie Hobbs, from Nettlebed, started the business with Berni Kent, from Peppard, but they were only able to operate for three weeks before all non-essential services were forced to close.

Since re-opening on April 12, the café has moved to The Waterman, an 80ft passenger vessel. It would normally accommodate 150 people, but capacity has been reduced to 30 for the time being as only the the upper deck is in use.

Ms Hobbs is the sister of the boat hire firm’s managing director, Jonathan Hobbs.

She said: “When we started, we were immediately successful, even though we were in the winter. People loved it and having the chance to enjoy the river, so it was sad for us to stop.

“Up until May 17, we will keep it to 30 people with social distancing on the upper deck, but we hope to continue right through the summer. The boats have never had a café on board and it is brilliant because we are able to take advantage of the upper deck and people are in awe of how beautiful it is. It is so much fun — it doesn’t feel like work.”

Customers are asked to wear face masks while they board the boat, but they can remove them once they are on the upper deck.

She and Mrs Kent, who works at Reading Blue Coat School in Sonning as a laboratory technician, had considered running a café before the pandemic.

They decided to go ahead with the idea after Ms Hobbs was furloughed from her work as a cabin crew leader with British Airways. Ms Hobbs said: “It has been fantastic to have this project to keep me occupied. On a personal note, it is lovely to have worked with my brother.

“He didn’t think about having a café on board, but I suppose my background in hospitality has helped. In a post-covid world, it could be that all the boats along the river have coffee shops.”

The two women met because their daughters both went to Peppard Primary School.

Ms Hobbs’ Daughter Charlotte and Mrs Kent’s daughter Sophie, both 16, are among the staff.

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