Speedy’s Café: Starring in ‘Sherlock’ is Part of the Family Business

Globally successful television series do more than make stars of their actors. A hit also creates fans of locations where key scenes were filmed or fans could watch their favorite characters come to life on a location shoot. Nowhere is this truer than on North Gower Street in London, where locally popular Speedy’s Café became an international star.

In April, filming on the third season of the BBC’s hit television series Sherlock began in London, after previous weeks’ locations had been dutifully reported and followed by fans around the world. Twitter’s fan-created #setlock tag, used to keep tabs on the production’s daily locations, created a furor among the series’ faithful, some who wanted a glimpse of the actors, others who liked to report spoilers, and still more who thought cast and crew should be left alone and filming left to the imagination.

Shortly before London filming was scheduled to begin, producer Sue Vertue appealed to fans to let the cast and crew work, especially because they were on a very tight schedule and, regrettably, would not have much time to interact with an audience. Nevertheless, on the Wednesday when filming moved back to North Gower Street (better known to Sherlock Holmes’ devotees as the stand-in for Baker Street), several followers got as close as possible to the doorway of fictitious 221B. Real-life next door neighbor Speedy’s was back in business as part of the Sherlock set, captured on film, as well as in photographs taken by entertainment media and onlookers.

The family-run business greatly appreciates fan support, but owners and employees are content to let Speedy’s be the star. The café increasingly caters to fans, who rapidly bought out the shop’s stock of Speedy’s t-shirts and coffee mugs when they were first offered. “Last year we designed some merchandise which was really successful, and we hope to develop even more merchandise to sell to those wanting a piece of Speedy’s at home,” said the café’s representative.

The owners think they are ready for this year’s demand, especially now that cameras have started rolling outside the front door. A new line of Speedy’s merchandise was launched in April on eBay and promoted through the business’ Twitter presence.

Speedy’s also encourages fans to suggest menu items. When Sherlock first became a hit, a wrap named after the Great Detective arrived on the menu: chicken, bacon, cheddar cheese (as sharp as Sherlock’s tongue), cucumber, lettuce, peppers, and red onions, topped with chili sauce (hot enough to, as Moriarty said, “burn the heart out of you”).

By 2012, it was time for a sandwich to honor John Watson, and the café created a competition to tweet the ingredients that would reflect John’s personality. “Although we had some tempting suggestions, we felt that [winner Natalia Velasco’s] wrap contained the most feasible and freshest ingredients and could be made in a short amount of time but still taste yummy. The wrap consists of roasted vegetables, spinach, tomatoes, spring onion, brie cheese and sour cream. We felt that the ingredients reflected John’s character perfectly in that they are safe, warm, and comforting, like his personality. The sour cream and spinach give the wrap that slight edge, which John also has.”

Selecting a winner was more difficult than expected. “We were really overwhelmed by the response” and “so grateful that so many Sherlock fans took their spare time to really think about” the way a wrap should represent a character. “We’re looking at doing a Moriarty sub in the build-up to season three, but you’ll have to stay tuned and follow us on Twitter to find out when.”

In the pre-Sherlock days, Speedy’s merely had to efficiently serve customers lining the doorway for breakfast or lunch, and, in many ways, “[w]hen it comes down to it, the core values of our business have not changed at all. Quality food at reasonable pricing and exceptionally warm and hospitable service are what we like to think is key to have our customers return. Outside of Sherlock, we still have our regulars who come in day to day because they know they can come here and relax, have some tasty, hot food, [and] a casual chat and head on back to work in a much better mood!”

Although the café has always been in demand, its customer base has expanded, which introduces a new dynamic to the business. “People are constantly taking pictures outside of the shop [or] with our staff, which is very surreal! We’ve been fortunate enough to have had this global exposure, so you could almost say we’ve become a ‘must visit’ spot for anyone who loves the show in particular or anyone who fancies a traditional English breakfast.”

The shop retains its original charm, although today Sherlock’s presence is certainly felt. Unlike many “theme” restaurants that may seem touristy or “fake”, Speedy’s remains a local favorite that maintains its regular neighborhood clientele while welcoming guests who want to see where Sherlock has been filmed. Today the café’s walls reflect Speedy’s star status; candid shots of Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) and Martin Freeman (John Watson) chatting between takes or being readied for a scene often are photographed by fans eating lunch beneath the memorabilia.

One photo stands out — Cumberbatch flanked by Speedy’s personnel. “That was taken on the day they filmed the episode ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’. We were just watching everyone at work and thought to document that moment and Benedict’s break by taking a photograph with the man himself.” The Radio Times recently published a similar behind-the-scenes photo of Cumberbatch and Sherlock newcomer Amanda Abbington as they sat down between scenes for a drink in the café. Such moments might be commonplace when Sherlock’s cast and crew are working nearby, but fans, perhaps enviously, like these photos for the way they portray a casual “Sherlock”. (See “It’s Eggs Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock stars enjoy breakfast at Speedy’s Café” 25 April 2013.)

During “A Scandal in Belgravia”, Speedy’s became more than a “Baker Street” landmark during a pivotal scene between Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss) and John Watson. Inviting the Sherlock team inside was a memorable experience. Everyone “was so humble and really down to earth — just regular guys with outstanding talents. We really look forward to having them back here to film again. It was flattering that they wanted to film inside, because it makes [the series] all the more personal and everyone at home gets to take a peek into the world of Speedy’s. If fans who want to visit Speedy’s cannot travel to the shop to see it in person, it’s nice to know that they will get somewhat of a feel of what it’s like in the shop from [watching episodes within] the comfort of their own homes.”

In addition to being a key setting for television storytelling, the café inspires others’ creativity. “The owner noticed a very talented young lady, Anne-Louise Richards, doodling in the shop one day and thought her skill was just undeniable. Her pieces are very realistic and extremely delicate, and so the owner asked if she would create a piece exclusively for Speedy’s.” The result is a pencil drawing providing a collage of Sherlock characters. Sherlock and John, at the center, are surrounded by Mycroft Holmes, Greg Lestrade, Molly Hooper, and Jim Moriarty. Among the portraits are iconic images and sayings familiar to the series’ audience.

“We’ve had a lot of fan art from creative people all over the globe. Sherlock fans are extremely innovative in the way that they express their passion for the show, whether it’s through baking a cake or through a beautiful print or drawing. It’s really inspiring and exciting to be surrounded by such creative energy!”

Sherlock may not always be a seasonal visitor, but the series should keep Speedy’s in the spotlight for years to come. “We feel so proud to be part of such an iconic show and really are humbled by the whole experience. We hope that being a part of something like Sherlock” has encouraged people who otherwise may not have known about the café “to come and eat at the shop, giving us the opportunity to demonstrate what we do best.”

“Our aim is to leave great lasting impressions and to have Sherlock fans wanting to return, not only for our connection to the show, but because they loved everything about their experience at Speedy’s, from the food to the service, to the cozy furnishings and just the overall buzz of the place. We’re extremely excited for the future and can’t wait for the next chapter in our story.”

Photo by Lynnette Porter