Independent of the Month: Espresso Library

Above: All food, where possible, is organic and free range

Is it a café? Is it an art gallery? Or is it a cycling club? Espresso Library is all three, writes Siobhan Godwood 

It’s difficult to imagine a place like Espresso Library existing in any previous decade. Described by its founders, Malgo Dzierugo and John Gull, as “a unique multi-use hangout space”, it’s a place that resists attempts to pin it down as any one thing, making it an archetype of the portfolio career, side hustle era in which we are living. And if their business is a place that performs many functions, then it’s no real surprise, as the founders have more than one string to their bows, too. Malgo is an art historian, yoga teacher and cook, while John is a keen road cyclist, time trialist, mathematician, chess enthusiast and coffee lover. What they’ve achieved is to take their interests and passions and create a venue where the Cambridge community can share those enthusiasms in a friendly, informal atmosphere.

John and Malgo started the business in 2015 with the simple aim of making every aspect of Espresso Library the very best it could be. At its heart it’s a coffee bar and restaurant, serving delicious food with a menu covering breakfast, lunch and dinner. “To begin with, Malgo developed the menus,” explains John, “but now we have a head chef. Right from the start, I wanted everything to be of the very highest quality, so all our ingredients as far as possible are organic and free range, and we make everything to order by hand.”   

 "I wanted everything to be of the very highest quality"

The restaurant is now offering an extended range of vegan options, and John is keen to promote a healthy, plant-based lifestyle. “Although we’re not a vegetarian restaurant, the menu features ten entirely vegan dishes,” he says. “Then on the breakfast menu you can have a vegan version of every item – there’s even a vegan alternative to the bacon sandwich, with vegan ‘bacon’ and vegan ‘butter’!” The coffee is also a really important part of the cafe – as is fairly clear from its name! It’s roasted by Rory and Marcella of The Coffee Officina, which is just over the Cambridgeshire border in Essex. John offers a range of their coffees, from Fiori Espresso, which is the house espresso and is a blend of coffees from South and Central America and East Africa, to a selection of single origin coffees and a guest coffee that changes regularly. All the coffee is made in the Slayer Espresso machine, made especially in Seattle in Cambridge blue for Espresso Library.

Espresso Library offers dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, and the place is available as a venue for private hire on the other evenings. It has space for up to 120 people and everything that you need for either a private party or a business function, from a cocktail and wine bar, to craft beers and tailored catering options. 

Above: A relaxed and informal space, perfect for a busy lunch with friends, or tucking away in a corner with a book

The space also works as an art gallery. “Every two months we change our art gallery and we have an opening for each new artist, which is a really fun evening.” The artists are often local, although not always, and the exhibitions are a real mix of different genres, from photography to sculpture. Sometimes Malgo approaches artists whose work she thinks would work well in Espresso Library, but artists often approach her, and there’s a form on the website to fill in if you want your work to be exhibited there. 

There’s a definite cycling vibe to Espresso Library, with in-store bike storage and live coverage of all professional cycling events. There’s even an Espresso Library cycling kit available to buy.

This all came about as a result of John’s desire for the cafe to offer something to the community. “Cycling is a hobby of mine, so I wanted to bring something of that into the business, too,” he explains.

The cycling club leaves from the cafe every Saturday morning at 7.30am, covering a distance of around 50km. “To begin with it was just me and one other guy, for the first ten weeks or so!” says John. Then gradually other people started to join us from time to time, and now 30 people turn up every Saturday morning.”

Inspired by the success of the cycling club, John is now trying to launch a chess club; they meet on Wednesday evenings, and again, it’s starting small, but he’s hoping it will begin to take on a life of its own. “Doing something like this, creating something for the Cambridge community, feels really good and makes running Espresso Library something more than just a business.”

John feels that the idea that Cambridge is dividing along ‘town versus gown’ lines isn’t really true anymore, and certainly not in his own experience. “I’ve lived around Cambridge my whole life, but I wasn’t a student here,” he says.

“Amongst my friends, some are ‘town’ and some are ‘gown’, but there isn’t any division that I can see. And it’s the same with Espresso Library customers; I know some cafes and venues in Cambridge have a clientele that’s one or the other, but I don’t want that to be what this place is.”

Espresso Library, 210 East Road, Cambridge
CB1 1BG, 01223 367333