Brothers Charlie and Alex Oppenheim have both built businesses around the parks and commons that make South London such a mecca for young families.
Charlie left life in the City to transform the Skylark Café on Wandsworth Common. While Alex, who works for John D Wood & Co, sells houses around the parks and commons, and knows how these acres of green space are a huge attraction for house buyers.
He says: “I had been working in the investment world and when I married Fran we moved to Battersea and started our family. Like everyone we found ourselves spending a lot of time in playgrounds and particularly the one on Wandsworth Common. I had left my old company and taken a bit of time off over the summer whilst our children were very young. We started wondering about the café and the chance to turn it into something special.
“With a lot of help from family and friends, we ended up taking it over and doing a little renovation to create The Skylark Café. We opened in April 2014.”
Since then the business has taken off, earning a four star review from Time Out. It has become a favourite spot for people to relax with a coffee and cake, to enjoy the sunshine. Now Charlie has expanded his business to take over the Rookery Café on Streatham Common, with plans for a new venture in Twickenham, opening in the next couple of months. The children’s menu, designed by Charlie and Fran, is nutritionally balanced, cooked from scratch, and there are seasonal colouring sheets, crayons and books to keep little diners occupied.
He says: “We’ve tried to make the Skylark Café into a place that anyone from any background can come, away from the hustle and bustle of city life, to enjoy a good cup of coffee or something delicious and fresh to eat. We have all sorts of things from a simple yet perfect bacon ‘buttie’, to some delicious and rather clever summer salads. Our freshly baked cakes, such as our raspberry lemon drizzle, are a speciality, along with our espresso and salted caramel cake made with our fabulous espresso from Curious Roo Coffee Roasters.
“’We’re very proud of being able to play a part in our community. We helped form The Friends of Wandsworth Common, and it is now a vibrant organisation of over 400 members, making a real difference to life in the area.
“We’ve also put a lot of effort into our food and drink menus to create wonderful things to enjoy both during the day and in the evening for our private hire guests. We do many parties and events throughout the year from summer barbecues to winter dinners to help celebrate all sort of occasions. We’ve had special birthdays, weddings, christenings, bar mitzvahs, leaving parties, returning parties, and many more. Now that we’ve fully refurbished the Skylark Café and made it a really lovely place to enjoy all year round, we hope to welcome many people in the future to enjoy their time with us.”
While transforming the café on Wandsworth Common Charlie put in a tender to take over the Rookery Café on Streatham Common.
“It is in the most beautiful location outside the Rookery gardens; a grade II listed Victorian garden of about four acres, with all sorts of little corners to explore, including the restored children’s paddling pool and amazing community gardens. We’ve also opened a little kiosk (The Little Rook) at the bottom of Streatham Common, by the new playground, which is a wonderful spot for those with young children. And we’re excitedly looking forward to opening our latest venture in Twickenham in the next couple of months. Watch this space.”