Interview with Matt Johnson by Timothy Wynne


Our columnist, Timothy Wynne met with Matt Johnson to talk about why we should engage more with local businesses.

I talked to TV’s Matt Johnson about the power of coffee and why working in retail sets you up for life.

As an icon moves into the digital age, reinvents the classic heavy weight Yellow Pages into an app with the potential to simplify our lives. With Cardiff locals emerging as the nation’s most avid newspaper readers – and Yell’s figures showing the most searched for local business in the Welsh capital being the humble newsagents – Johnson shares his insight into why Cardiff might just be the best place for starting an independent business, and why his many jobs growing up just down the road from the city set him up for a career in journalism.

“I’ve just ordered a sandwich now, from the New York Deli,” Matt begins. “Small business [like the deli] encourage us to feel like we’re apart of something.”

It’s not hard to argue that Cardiff’s landscape is as formed by the “iconic local brands” – as Matt puts it himself – as much as it is the environment that encompasses it. Those points of reference for us, be it the age old debate between “Tony’s or Dorothy’s” on Caroline Street, tell us exactly why independent works so well. “It gets a bit heated online when I mention either of them, people have very strong opinions on where to go.”

On the topic of employment, Matt touches on the benefits for individuals working for independents. “I learnt so much about myself, working for local businesses. You’re contributing to something that feels so much more personal.”

Practicality wise, it’s true. Often it is more personal. “The conglomerates serve a place too,” fitting as we stand at the intersection between the likes of Primark and Costa in St. David’s. “But I also think it’s good for your mental health to interact with your community. These places [smaller local businesses] act as hubs for our communities”

“It’s easy,” Matt begins on the topic of those large chains, “to feel like ‘oh, why bother? Mr. Top Shop’s already rich’ but when you see a business grow, that you’re apart of, see your boss’s life changing, it makes a difference.”

Matt himself has a long history of campaigning for the mental health charity Mind. His 2017 documentary for S4C ‘Iselder a Fi’ explored his own experiences with depression and how community ties and engagement are as crucial as any other part of managing a sustainable recovery.

“When you’re actually looking in the eyes of the people you’re affecting, it’s important.”

We also shared something in common, a love for Cardiff Market. “I used to love a shop called Coffee Mania, it was right in the middle of the Bay. But it’s sadly no longer there. Now every time I’m back I go to a little stall in the market.” After chatting I quickly realized where Matt was talking about. Myself having guzzled down the very coffee before a furious power walk to meet him for our chat.

“They do a great Oat Latte [Hard Lines] and it’s a really simple way of supporting a local business. Two or three pounds a day or when you can. I love coffee, it’s so important to me and your first one of the day, a quality strong one, sets you up.” Following an overwhelmingly positive crowd sourcing campaign to raise funds for their first bricks and mortar location, they’re soon to open on 25 Castle Street.

“For whatever reason, it feels as though people have been forgotten about. And that needs to change. It’s easy to say that, stood in a big shopping mall. But we can look forward while looking at the past and celebrating it. People are starting to think more ethically about what they’re purchasing, and how they’re purchasing it.”

On how can help local businesses within our community grow, after 15 minutes of reminiscing, it was to the future Matt looked. “Obviously there’s a lot of nostalgia attached to the big old yellow book, but it’s so easy now for businesses to log onto the website, fill out the form and get listed immediately.”

It’s inevitable, that when everything we buy has become so immediate, that our demand can make some of the most social moments in our life both stressful and disposable. If I’m to take anything from our chat, it’s that there’s power in taking a moment to interact and to explore. Even if it’s just stopping somewhere new for your morning coffee on Monday.