Bethnal Green welcomes back its beloved coffee vendor Frank Wang, the man who inspired a community-led campaign to save his kiosk.
If like us, you spotted Frank Wang’s iconic yellow coffee stand appearing in a new location on Shoreditch High Street last month, you might have been wondering when Wang will be back in town.
Putting an end to much speculation and anticipation, Wang announced this week that he will be back serving coffee to local residents and tired commuters from Tuesday 18 April in a new location.
A twenty-minute walk from his old coffee spot beside the Bethnal Green Underground Station, Wang’s kiosk now stands under the railway bridge on Shoreditch High Street, opposite Shoreditch Box Park.
The new site hooks up to the electricity mains, connecting Wang’s kiosk to a reliable power supply rather than using costly and inefficient batteries, which was a large reason Wang had to stop trading for the second time after a community-led campaign saved his stall in 2019.
Where the rich smell of roasted coffee beans mingles with smokey flavours wafting from the Argentinian Grill across the road, traffic noises and beeping horns provide the soundtrack to Wang’s new bustling location.
‘I’m definitely most excited to see all my customers and friends again. I’ve been away for so long, it will be like a party seeing everyone on Tuesday!’ he beams.
Though Wang is delighted to be back, he says he’s worried that his regular customers won’t know where to find him, and he plans to put up posters outside Bethnal Green underground station to point people towards his new site.
Beijing-born Wang had been selling coffee for 15 years outside Bethnal Green underground station before run-ins with Transport for London and Tower Hamlets Council led to his power being cut in April 2018 and him being told he had to close his store.
The decision sparked a community-led campaign for Wang to stay: a six-month-long battle involving a petition signed by over 4,000 people and a rally of over 300 local customers supporting Wang’s cause.
In September 2018 the London Mayor’s Office announced that Wang could return to his original spot. By this time Wang had sold most of his equipment to stay afloat, and what equipment remained fell short of new width restrictions. Sam Dodd, a friend of Wang’s, set up a Crowdfunder page to raise the funds needed for a new stall which surpassed £10,000 in January 2019.
Within minutes of meeting Wang it’s easy to see why the community rallied around him with such enthusiasm. Not only did his struggle capture the imagination of the public fighting for the small businessman against larger nefarious forces, Wang exudes a rare warmth and infectious spirit more powerful than any pick-me-up coffee from his stall.
And yet, Wang was still not in the clear. With no connection to the electricity mains he was relying on costly batteries that would only power enough electricity to make around 30 cups of coffee.
‘It was so embarrassing!’ exclaims Wang: ‘I would be serving my thirtieth customer and then suddenly the electricity would cut off right in the middle of a cup of coffee.’
Wang persevered for a number of months, but eventually the cost of buying new batteries became unsustainable and he had to wave goodbye to Bethnal Green once again.
During the long four-year wait for the new site Wang worked as a delivery courier to support his family. Dropping off an Amazon parcel to a house in Bethnal Green, he was recognised by one of his former customers which made him even more determined to get back to the community fostered by Frank’s Coffee stand.
As a show of gratitude to everyone who supported him, Wang has launched a reward scheme to celebrate his return. Those who donated to the campaign, or who donate to Wang’s cause now, will receive a 10% discount loyalty card lasting a year and a free coffee for every £10 donated.
Opening bright and early at 7 am on Tuesday 18 April, we’d recommend leaving a little extra time to get a coffee from Frank on your way to work. There’s bound to be a queue.
Frank’s Coffee can be found at 196 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6LG.
If you enjoyed this article, you might like our piece about another community hero, the green crusader ridding Mile End Park of litter.