Sole Kitchen, Harbour Coffee, Sailbox and The Fish Shack
Meet the man behind the Sole Kitchen, The Harbour Coffee Company, Sailbox and The Fish Shack on the Harbour Arm – Mark Babins. With his business partner Michael Lake, Mark set up Sole Kitchen on the Harbour Arm in 2015. Both men wanted to create a business they were passionate about and food was the driving force. Fast forward to today and the empire has grown. Sole Kitchen is no longer a tiny hut, but is 3 times the size. The Harbour Coffee Company provides arguably the best coffee in Folkestone, along with amazing cheese toasties and has a terrace area. They even roast their own coffee in situ. The Fish Shack is Sole Kitchen’s little sister in The Goods Yard on the Harbour. Sailbox, the latest venue is a stunning restaurant on Harbourside at Folkestone Harbour. Folkelife wanted to find out more about this inspiring journey.
“I’ve been in catering all my life, and in 2012 I wanted a change of direction. I left and went into the building industry, which I also enjoy doing. The thing I like about whatever I do is the creativity; creativity in building something, and creativity in cooking too. Mike saw the opportunity here on the Arm and got us a place for the end of the season in 2014. We were only open for a number of weeks. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come back into catering, but when we saw the potential of being on the Harbour Arm, it just really made sense.”
passionate about food and drink
“I love food and drinks, and serving quality products, it’s in my soul, and it keeps drawing me back. Mike and I always were wanting to leave our other work and do Sole Kitchen full time. Mike got the Harbour Coffee Company space and so we had two businesses to our names by 2018. Then, Mike, having struggled with mental health issues, sadly passed away. I had both businesses and had to make some decisions as to what to do. I know that Michael would have wanted me to carry on with our plan, so that’s what I did.”
being at the harbour
“The thing about being here on the Harbour is you are surrounded by creative people. Not only the other traders, who are immensely talented, but also the management too. You pick up on their energy and it drives you forward. Covid highlighted how much we’re a family here at the Harbour. We support each other and I missed that during the pandemic. I think that support makes it easy to be creative too. You’re encouraged to try out new things and new ideas.”
Growing into Cheese Toasties
“Sole Kitchen had always been a seafood offering. That’s what was here before us, and the team wanted to still be offering that sort of food. We work really closely with the Folkestone Trawlers and a lot of our food is local and freshly caught. Then in The Harbour Coffee Company we’re building on that momentum of really decent coffee in Folkestone. There are a few cafés around the town who are serving really good stuff and it means that the bar is set high. I like that.
“One thing that’s been really successful here is our toasties. I’ve got some Italian bread made from Durum wheat which really suits a toasted sandwich. When The Goods Yard started up we offered the toasties and then turned into The Fish Shack. If you’re watching a film or the sport, it’s good to have a fish and chips offering there.”
the harbour coffee company
“I love really good coffee, I always have. What I’m really excited about here is the roasting machine we have next door. Our customers are really good and are part of our focus group in deciding what coffee we will sell. There are opportunities to buy direct from coffee bean farmers, and I want the coffee we offer to be fairly traded. Then, once I have the beans, which we buy ‘green’, we’ll roast them here and experiment with blends and sell the best ones. You’ll be able to buy direct from us or online. “
“I like to offer food of a quality and standard that I would want to eat if I were going out. So that’s my plan, and it seems to be working. The next thing with the Harbour Arm is that you really need to have space to sit down inside. This is a fantastic venue, whatever the weather, but sometimes you need to experience that weather from inside rather than out. When we expanded Harbour Coffee to be able to have seating inside it doubled our takings.
“Last year we extended upwards with the Terrace on top of Harbour Coffee which again works really well, in good weather. Now we’ve got Sailbox where we can offer all those breakfast/brunch and beyond menus that we’ve trialed in our other venues, and there’s space to sit inside. There are 60 covers inside, and when we open up outside it takes it to 150.”
seaside Pub classics
“We have a reputation for always being open, and that’s really important. Expect that of Sailbox too. Open for breakfast, brunch and on into the evening, and serving what I call seaside pub classics. Fish and chips is a must, but I’ve left the menu open so that we can serve what people want. Smoked kipper rolls and bacon butties for breakfast always went down well at Sole Kitchen, simple brioche and sausage rolls… there’s always been a demand and so that’s what we’ll do.
“Our coffee is an important part of what we do too. There’ll be space to buy our roasted beans and it will be available from all our venues to drink too. I’m all for organic growth. I could push and push and market this, but it’s growing in popularity because people are coming and tasting it, enjoying it, and buying it because it’s good.”
views to the warren
“What I love about being on this side of the Arm is the view. Sailbox will have 40 foot bi-fold doors at the front which look out across the beach and to The Warren, and round to all along the Arm. Once the doors are open and the tables outside there really isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be than here. If it rains, come inside, there’s plenty of room. We’ve also got our own toilets so you need never leave! We’re going to do our best to provide food that makes you want to come back again and again.
“Each year we’ve grown and grown, it’s been staggering actually. I did worry that if there were more traders then it would dilute trade for everyone but each year more and more people have come, more traders have come and so more people have come.
“I’ve been a part of the Harbour team for 6 years now and it’s a good community down here. I’ve dusted off my tools and have got stuck in with some of the build here, and I’ll always help the others out too. We’re like a family here, it’s something special.”
Photo credit: Crab in bun with chips – Kirsty Storey