December 10, 2012

Harris and Hoole

Filed under: Business,Customer Service,Marketing — by xrematon @ 9:56 pm

Two old Etonian friends of David Cameron? Or perhaps a new Cbeebies series?

No, it’s the name of a coffee shop that has recently opened in my neck of the woods. Normally, I wouldn’t assume that the arrival of a coffee shop is worth writing about, but it just so happens that this one is part-owned by Tesco, who are finding new ways to dominate our streets and increase their share of our spending.

Here are some more practical details about the venture. The new coffee chain, named Harris and Hoole after coffee-loving characters in Samuel Pepys’ diary, will not display any information to inform customers that the company is up to 49%-owned by Tesco. The chain is being run by the Australian siblings behind the upmarket London coffee shops Taylor Street. Nick, Andrew and Laura Tolley, who set up Taylor Street in 2006, will own the majority of the shares in Harris and Hoole.

Clearly, this was too good to resist and I have been to experience H&H for myself. Firstly, I must declare that an important aspect of what the founders are focussing on will be completely lost on me – they are keen to offer people the very best coffee (specially chosen beans, carefully grown and roasted etc etc), and I drink tea.

However, the design and atmosphere were still up for review. The décor, as described in one write-up , is

‘very much contemporary, urban, ‘shabby chic’ with stripped wooden floors and bookcases, reclaimed wooden tabletops, and industrial ceiling detail. The open kitchen, to the rear of the unit, is edged with modern black and white glazed tiles.’

It definitely did feel quite shabby, especially as they have kept the original ceiling (with damaged stucco detail) and ceramic tiles (punctured by butcher’s hooks) – which gives it all an element of randomness with genuine and manufactured character.

And the vibe – well, the place was surprisingly full, and made me realise there is a more diversity in Amersham than I thought. There were the obligatory ‘ladies who lunch’ (or rather do coffee after dropping off kids), and the comfortable retirees. But there were also other representatives of society I would be more likely to find in central London than in a small commuter town – young professionals alone or in groups, busy meeting in their ‘third space’, complete with Macs and the like. All in all, it felt rather buzzy and energetic –and serene and relaxing are the adjectives I would normally associate with Chilterns establishments.

I solicited opinions from my companions accompanying me on this trip. I got some much more practical responses. Apparently, it’s quite nice to feel like you have been transported into ‘happening East London’, but the fact remains the cost of a cup of coffee is noticeably pricier than in other local coffee places.

For the moment, it looks like Harris and Hoole are keen to be welcomed by their community. In their tweets, they say nice things to the other local coffee shops whose fortunes they are now putting under strain, and they have put a blackboard where people can write up local events and activities. I will be interested to see if it will ever get to the H&H one year anniversary party in December 2013.

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