Planes can't take off, but new businesses can - pilot swaps cockpit for coffee

Upminster's Joe Townshend starts coffee roasting business

Upminster's Joe Townshend has turned the negative of losing his livelihood as a pilot into a positive by opening up his own coffee roasting business on Hornchurch Road. - Credit: Joe Townshend

One job loss would wound most people. Two could cause a complete crisis of confidence. 

Yet that is the precise situation Upminster pilot Joe Townshend has faced, survived and thrived within.

The 33-year-old lost his first job with Thomas Cook when the firm went under in September 2019. He recovered with a role at Titan Airways, only for a once in a lifetime pandemic to hit which acutely affected his industry. 

Joe would be forgiven for cursing his luck at that stage, for deciding to retreat in reaction to these two hammer blows. 

But rather than do that, he chose to use it as a springboard to realise a long-held ambition of opening his own coffee roasting business. 

The Recorder caught up with the former Gaynes School student during a rare free moment, where the dad-of-two told his story.

Joe makes it clear that his overall aspiration is to return to life as a pilot: "I love what I do and want to go back to Titan when I can, but I'm realistic. Recovery is going to take a long time, particularly in my industry - things move like a glacier in aviation."

Coffee business operates out of Hornchurch commercial site

Joe and his dad renovated the commercial space on Hornchurch Road to make it suitable for Altitude Coffee London. - Credit: Joe Townshend

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With no real movement expected for at least 12 months, he decided to use the time to create Altitude Coffee London, the name a tip to his roots with firm eyes on the present.

Joe formed it in April and runs operations from a commercial premises in Hornchurch Road, where he roasts beans to order for onward delivery.

Despite the venture's relative infancy, he has already managed to secure orders from all around the UK, proving that word of mouth isn't his only marketing tool.

This, he hopes, is down to the quality brand he has created: "I wanted to buy a high quality machine for roasting the beans, which I buy raw. I saw this as an investment, and so far people are responding to the high standard of specialty coffee that's being produced."

As any new business owner will know, that first year feels all-consuming. This is especially so for Joe, who is combining frequent 10-hour days running the business with flexible shift work as an Ocado driver. 

Joe Townshend Upminster resident Hornchurch business

Joe has always had a real love for coffee, and has used that passion to create a bespoke product whose USP he hopes can elevate the business to great things. - Credit: Joe Townshend

If he's overwhelmed by the circumstances, he doesn't let it show. Rather, his sense of pride trumps whatever stress he may feel: "I love running the business, not just to make money, but we have created a brand that I’m proud of. I’ve received positive customer feedback which means a lot.” 

Beyond his own professional ambition, as apparent on land as in the air, the entrepreneur has another motivation - his children. 

Aged two and five, Joe explains how they drive him: "When we have children, we want them to have as good, or better, a life than we had. Luckily, my parents looked after us so well, and I want to give my children as much as I can.” 

Knowing that this is the ultimate aim tempers the occasional frustration which comes with being so busy; Joe knows that to pursue his passions in earnest is the most important example he can set as a father. 

He's keen to emphasise the help he's been given. The commercial space belongs to his father, who has not only given Joe a leg-up by relieving him of rental pressures, but also helped him renovate so that it became a usable space. 

Upminster men renovate Hornchurch space for coffee business

Getting the commercial premises up to spec took around five months, with Joe assisted greatly by his father. - Credit: Joe Townshend

Joe knows this has given his venture a fighting chance, allowing him to look to the future: "I’m hoping we can build on the success that we’ve had so far. Within the next 12 months, or maybe longer, I would like to open a café with the same branding.” 

There will come a time when both of Joe's passions will collide, something he welcomes as a privileged problem to have.

The pilot possesses an outlook which makes sense of his success: “I had hankered with the idea of doing something like this for years back when I was a pilot. Losing two jobs in quick succession gave me the push to make it a reality.” 

Visit Altitude Coffee London at or @altcoffeeldn across all social media channels.

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