Love of Coffee

Love of Coffee
08/05/2017 - 07:20
SOHO Coffee Co. has been making a name for itself with its passion for organic, fairtrade coffee since opening its doors in Cheltenham in 1999. Maria Bracken spoke to managing director Penny Manuel to find out about the company's origins and success.

Eighteen years ago, SOHO Coffee Co. opened its first store just off the high street in Cheltenham, serving organic, Fairtrade coffee - years ahead of the mainstream coffee chains. Last month, the 32nd store, which is now its regional flagship unit, opened in the very same town.

The Brewery Quarter is a multi million pound development in the centre of Cheltenham's shopping centre, based around the old Cheltenham Brewery.

Manuel admits that she will always have a soft spot for Cheltenham. "It's where SOHO began and is the heart of our company operation."

This latest store is the first of many others planned for this year. The Brewery Store in Cheltenham was the first store opening of 2017, with a further nine being opened this year. SOHO has just opened in Debenhams in the Birmingham Bullring, followed by a store on Baker Street, London which will launch in May.

Manuel sees London as the sole focus for the coming months with openings planned in Austin Friars, O2, Gresham Street and Grosvenor Street. SOHO opened its first two locations in London in November last year in what Manuel describes as first class locations. "The customer base is quite different with St. Paul's attracting the tourist trade, whilst the Strand picks up great business from the Royal Court of Justice. As a result of the success of these stores, the roll out across London has been accelerated."

The group also introduced a new format store in Bath last year, offering

customers the ‘next wave of coffee development’. "We have just opened our outside seating area and are looking forward to seeing seats full of customers enjoying iced coffees in the Bath sunshine. Our extended coffee menu has been well received - almond milk based drinks are on the up, as are matcha based drinks."

Hot food is an important part of SOHO's menu. She explains why: "We seek to differentiate ourselves through our hot food and have built a good reputation for proper breakfast sandwiches, our huge stuffed jackets and a strong range of toasties and hot wraps. We are also trialing a stand-alone hot counter at the Brewery and have introduced a choice of bases for our customers to be able to build their lunch just how they want to."

She identifies tacos as the most popular items on the menu, followed by jackets. But says their hot grain pots are gaining them a new fan base. "We will be taking our learnings, refining the menu and rolling the successes out to the new stores."

Breakfast is also a big hit on the menu. "Our bacon and egg sandwich using Happy Eggs and freshly baked, hand cut bread is just great."

The response to its new Spring menu, which has reinvented classics such as the kale caesar and new breakfast bowls,  has also been phenomenal," she adds.

In terms of growth areas for the business, Manuel says their core focus for owned stores is retail. "We trade extremely strongly with franchise partners  in travel and will continue to target growth through key partnerships."

Meanwhile, human nature is a big opportunity. "People love to seek new experiences, try new flavours and demand ever more for their hard earned cash - we appreciate that and continuously seek to innovate and deliver great value.

Staying ahead of the curve in terms of industry trends is also crucial to the success of the business: "Health, meat free and customisation continue to be high on our customers' agendas and therefore at the top of our new product development plans."

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