Five minutes with… Tony Papas

The Allpress Espresso co-founder on staying true to your vision, what to do when things get too ‘peopley’ and time travelling to dine with his grandparents

Food and Drink 22 Nov 2019

Tony Papas

Tony Papas

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given in your career and why? 

A colleague at my first restaurant told me, ‘Always remember why you started the business.’ When you start a business it’s always pure and simple, but as your business grows and develops, sometimes that idea gets buried. If you remember your original motivations it can really be a beacon to guide you when you make decisions. The idea for Allpress, for example, is to make espresso that tastes fantastic. Anything that doesn’t build on that flavour needs to be seriously examined.

Who is your role model and how have they influenced you in your work?

For over 30 years, mentorship for me has meant a group of people that range from their 20s to their 80s. People that I really admire who I catch up with informally, fairly regularly. Someone suggested that as a way to approach mentorship, and it has really worked for me. The person that I feel is the most traditional “role model” to me is Alice Waters [of Chez Panisse]. I met her while doing a stage there in 1993. What I admire is how she started with a set of ideals that have always been at the forefront of her business. What she has created in Berkeley is really inspiring, not just the restaurant, but the gardens and the educational side as well. It’s such a holistic place, doing things exceptionally well.

What ingredient can you not live without and why?

Water. I recently bought a property in Puglia that had no access to drinking water. It was incredibly hot that summer, there was no water, it was crazy. It made me think of the films Manon des Source and Jean de Florette. You also can’t make a cup of coffee without water so there’s another important reason!

What item, apart from your passport, can you not travel without?

Earbuds. I travel a lot and sometimes when things get too ‘peopley,’ a really great term I learnt recently from a guy who lives out near Alice Springs in Australia, it’s the only way to get away and listen to a podcast or some music.

Where is your favourite place to eat in London?

St John Bread & Wine.

 What do you like the most about your favourite London restaurant?

It’s my neighbourhood restaurant. I’ve been going there regularly for the 11 or so years I’ve lived in London. It’s so simple – great cooking, pared back, consistent, the kind of food I like to eat. No music, nothing hanging on the walls, no flowers, no garnishes.

What do you like to do on a day off?

I don’t really think of on and off days but I guess if I’m not working I like to get outside and walk, go to markets, cook something, eat at home, and read.

Apart from food, what are your biggest passions?

Gardening, something active like cycling or going to the gym, and I’ve also got a passion for buildings. I enjoy a building project, but I also love looking at what people are doing with their buildings. I love the potential that buildings have.

If you could choose anyone from today or history, who would be your ideal dinner party guest and why?

In a way, if you’re a chef, lots of interesting people have been your guests. If I were to choose someone then I guess it would be my grandparents. My Greek grandfather sailed to Australia when he was 15 and then for some unknown reason, five years later he made his way to the gum fields in The Hokianga, way up in the northern part of New Zealand. He met my grandmother while he was shovelling gum – she was working for a doctor who would travel on horseback out into the fields and treat the workers. I’d like to have them to dinner as they were then, it would have been the 1920s.

Tony Papas, is the co-founder of Allpress Espresso;