Belfast Telegraph

Oz-inspired Haptik coffee and art bar proves a winning combination for Newtownards husband and wife partnership

By Amanda Ferguson

It is a little bit of Melbourne in the heart of Newtownards. Haptik coffee bar and contemporary art space opened in Frances Street in October after husband and wife team, Johnny and Rachel McBride, fell in love with the Australian coffee scene in 2013 on a year living Down Under.

The couple decided to open a business exploring their two big passions - coffee and art.

Mr McBride told Business Telegraph Haptik means "non verbal communication through the sense of touch and perception of an object" and explained the inspiration of the new coffee and arts business.

"Rachel and I lived in Melbourne in 2013," he said.

"Rachel is a professional artist and had been invited to Australia to do an art residency and from there was asked to do an exhibition.

"We fell in love with the city.

"I worked in a cafe and fell in love with the coffee scene."

When the McBrides moved home to Northern Ireland at the end of March they set about making their dream for Haptik a reality.

"We had most of our business plan down when we were out there," Johnny said.

"We did our research and realised the coffee scene here was nowhere near what it was in Melbourne but could see the industry developing in Belfast and further afield.

"We thought hard about it and decided to bring a little bit of Melbourne to Newtownards."

The ground floor of the old Frances Street property currently houses the coffee shop and gallery space featuring artists from across Ireland.

The first floor, which is expected to open at the end of January, will be for studio space, workshops, exhibitions and various events.

"The coffee is the main product," Johnny said.

"We try to create an inclusive environment incorporating coffee and contemporary art."

Johnny and Rachel, who is responsible for the managerial, administration and social media side of the business, sought assistance from Thought Collective in Belfast to help them with their brand design.

"We knew we wanted to be big on typography, to have a simple brand and knew we wanted it to cross over between coffee and art," Johnny said.

The stylish, textured interior of Haptik features concrete, copper, solid wood and exposed brickwork.

"We took over this old building, which had been lying derelict for three years," Johnny explained.

"It had original ornate cornicing, which is so hard to replicate now, so we wanted to create a semi-industrial look but keep elements of warmth.

"Oscar and Oscar are our architects and designers for the fit-out.

"They have worked on Il Pirata, Lost and Found in Coleraine, Howard Street and Ox in Belfast.

"They have been great. We are more than happy with the finish."

Haptik is open Tuesday to Friday 8am to 9pm and Saturday 8am to 5pm.

It is closed on Sundays and Mondays to give the team of six a proper weekend, something Johnny and Rachel learned about when they were living in Australia.

"In Australia they really believe in a good work-life balance," Johnny said.

"We wanted to maintain that, so the team get the weekend off and then we are ready to rock on a Tuesday and eager to go again."

The couple are both graduates of the University of Ulster, Rachel in visual communications and graphic design and Johnny in business management, so their combined skills make for a good team to run their unique business.

Haptik was self-financed, with assistance from family, and the couple's friends in business have acted as mentors and advisers since they opened.

The first two months of trading have gone well.

"It has been excellent," Johnny said.

"The response we have been getting is unbelievable.

"We didn't think we would get a regular customer base on a daily basis but they are coming in for the coffee and the atmosphere."

Johnny has also been heartened by the support Haptik has received from other independent coffee shop owners.

"We have found, especially in the coffee industry, everyone helps each other," he said.

"We called into Established in Belfast and were chatting to the guys there.

"It was good to talk to them about the small things that can come up.

"We have had so many well wishes from other coffee shops, which is nice and encouraging."

Haptik aims to be a cultural hub where different artists perform or display work and you get a great cup of coffee while enjoying this.

A range of arts events are also going to play a big role in the business as it moves forward.

On December 10 at 6.30pm Winter Tales by Candlelight, a storytelling session for adults by Liz Weir will run at Haptik and on December 17 at 4pm Liz will be back with We Believe, a children's Christmas stories event.

"We are going to have visual arts, performance arts, music," Johnny said.

"Haptik is about everything to do with the arts."

To submit art proposals email and for enquiries about coffee email

  • For more about Haptik visit

Belfast Telegraph