Tesco may be backing ‘artisan’ coffee shop Harris & Hoole but the cafe has a very distinct identity of its own.
Dobbies, F&F and Harris & Hoole stand as examples of Tesco providing backing for existing businesses, or creating entirely new formats where it might not be the first name that springs to mind. Coffee shop Harris & Hoole is the newest and might be described as an example of Tesco seed capital.
The grocer has taken a minority stake in an enterprise that has ambitions to become a modest chain. Uxbridge is now open and Ruislip is next in line to welcome the Harris & Hoole ‘artisanal’ style of caffeine and cakes retailing. It is Amersham on the Hill that has, since last month, been the first town to have a Tesco-backed coffee shop and, standing outside, there is no clue about the grocer’s involvement.
This is probably just as well. Artisanal coffee and big corporate retail could make uncomfortable bedfellows but, even for those in the know, this is much better than any of the other coffee shops in the town. It is fair to remark that there is a Caffè Nero and a Little Waitrose not very far away – this is some way from being an average locality.
That said, the majority of its neighbours are outposts of national chains and while Harris & Hoole has corporate backing, it has all the hallmarks of a small, idiosyncratic operation.
All of the things you would expect of a contemporary coffee chain are, of course, in evidence with free wi-fi, calorific cakes and a wide array of coffee styles all on offer. But it is the curious mix of rustic style and industrial chic (principally in the shape of the long steel-topped counter) that mark this one out as something different.
This is a deep and relatively wide shop – giving the interior a sense of space that is unusual in the highly formatted and cut-throat world of hot beverage retailing, where every square foot tends to be sweated. Then there is the mix of furniture. There is a brown leather Chesterfield sofa, like almost everywhere else, but this is mixed with wooden benches and window seats, small tables and aquamarine bentwood chairs, which banish the feel of a corporate roll-out.
Bringing home the bacon
There is also the black and white tiled kitchen at the back of the shop, reached by passing through a raw timber arch. All of the pastries, bacon muffins and suchlike are cooked here from scratch and on the day of visiting most customers seemed intent on tucking into something rather more substantial than a skinny latte or a single espresso.
Harris & Hoole is something of a curiosity, therefore, being the point where big retail and a highly individual and local form of owner/manager-style shopkeeping meet. The staff were enthusiastic and keen to offer the inevitable loyalty card to anyone purchasing a drink in this highly wrought interior.
Given that your correspondent’s normal coffee drinking takes place some 27 miles south-east of this cafe, the proffered card seems likely to remain at the back of the wallet, but this is almost good enough (as is the countryside surrounding Amersham) to merit repeat visits, in spite of the distance.