John Wyllie

Ayr’s resident and easy-going dog-enthusiast, John Wyllie, owns and runs Café Kawiarnia alongside his wife, Magdalena. He talks about what it is like to run a business in Ayr and shares their journey to creating a safe space where everyone’s welcome.

John and his wife Magdalena opened their first Coffee House Kawiarnia in Ayr three years ago. Both come from a hospitality background and Magdalena, who is originally from Poland, saw an opportunity to create a hub for the local Polish community. As the Coffee House opened its doors, they noticed that it wasn’t just the Polish community that needed more opportunities to come together. There were many people who were isolated in Ayr and the couple decided to create a friendly and inviting space that could bring the local community together.

Creating a safe space for everyone

“We want the Coffee House to be seen as cosy and safe place. People can sit by themselves or they can talk to us when they feel like it.” John put a lot of thought into the design of the place in order to create the best atmosphere possible “The counter is set in the middle with all the seating surrounding it so, at any point, the staff is only a couple of feet away if the customer wants to chat. It’s also why I made it dog friendly. It’s easier to start a conversation if you see someone with a cute dog. It makes you want to talk to them more.”

Looking after people and making everyone feel welcome has been one of the main focuses in his business practices. But he recognises that there are still barriers that hold people back from trying and taking the first step towards finding others who they enjoy spending time with. In order to create the most welcoming atmosphere for everyone, John and Magdalena have been working towards making the coffee shop ‘Dementia Friendly’ and accessible for people with learning difficulties.

John knows that it doesn’t take much to make a difference for someone, “I don’t like people who bully people, and I don’t like people being scared, so if I can help them, I will. And it’s silly wee things that can make a big difference. Even a tiny interaction – it’s a big bad scary world – just one person saying hello can make you feel that you’re not alone. It takes the smallest thing.”

I don’t like people who bully people, and I don’t like people being scared, so if I can help them, I will. And it’s silly wee things that can make a big difference. Even a tiny interaction – it’s a big bad scary world – just one person saying hello can make you feel that you’re not alone. It takes the smallest thing.”

Getting out of your comfort zone

The entrepreneurial couple recently opened a second location in Ayr, the Café Kawiarnia on Alloway Place. The café feels really open and modern and the owners plan for it to be used for bigger groups and events – a community hub for all. They want to create more opportunities for people to connect with one another and having the space to do it is an important part of it.

But John understands that it can be difficult for people to get out of their comfort zone and reach out to new people. He says, “It’s terrifying, trying to go somewhere new where you don’t know anyone. Trying to join a conversation, a part of you wants it, other part doesn’t want it at all and just wants to go back home where its safe.

Even me, I’ve suffered from depression in the past, I’m a big guy, over 6’5, and I still find it intimidating being in big groups. But you’ve just got to keep going, keep trying. Don’t be worried about trying to talk, some people don’t want to talk but then some people won’t shut up! Try different places, it’s about finding that little jigsaw piece where you can fit in and have a conversation and relate to other people.”

You have to change with the times. Lots of shops close, but you have to adapt, many things will not cost you money but you just have to put in the effort and a little bit of time. It might even take 6 months to see any difference, just keep working on it. Sometimes it pays off being stubborn!

Bringing the businesses and community together

John is passionate about the role of local businesses in their communities, “Businesses have one of the biggest roles to play in bringing the community together. It’s about making a safe environment, where people don’t feel threatened. Everyone is welcome. If you’re nice to me, I’m nice to you.”

For other businesses who want to make changes to become more accessible for everyone, John says “It takes time, you will make a lot of mistakes, some people you’re trying to help, they won’t want it but they might want it later. Don’t push it, if you do they won’t come back. Sometimes it just takes the smallest thing to make a difference.” Something that doesn’t take a lot that John and some businesses do is to keep an eye out for their regulars. If someone who is a regular at the café doesn’t turn up for a while, John will get in touch with others who own the places that the person also visits to check if they’ve seen them, if they’re okay.

Looking into the future, John feels it would be better if the local businesses could all come together and collaborate to connect with the community. “You have to change with the times. Lots of shops close, but you have to adapt, many things will not cost you money but you just have to put in the effort and a little bit of time. It might even take 6 months to see any difference, just keep working on it. Sometimes it pays off being stubborn!”