They are everywhere, in every town and city, a Tescos branch, whether it be a huge out of town super sized store, or a mini village Tesco Express, they pop up all over the place. And with reportedly one in every eight pounds being spent in a Tescos store, the supermarket chain is slowly but surely taking over the world. Well the UK at least.
But one thing that was beyond its reach was the cool and sophisticated coffee shop. With plump lounging sofas, and stylish tunes playing to a laid back audience, Tesco couldn’t compete with this market could they? Well, apparently they can, just so long as you don’t know the brand is Tescos.
A new coffee shop has quietly opened up in North London with the devilishly clever name that would make Stephen Fry look again, of Harris + Hoole. For those not in a literary frame of mind, these were two characters who loved coffee and featured in Samuel Pepys’ diary. Harris + Hoole is the epitome of cool coffee style, and as far removed from Starbucks as you can get. This is the place you go to when you want to impress your friends without grandiose gestures, or without looking as if you are trying too hard. “What this old place? Yes I always come here to study, it’s the only place I can get any peace/they serve my favourite croissants/they play Bowie.”
But it may surprise you to know that the brand behind the brand is not as cool as you’d like to think, in fact, Tesco own a reputed 49% of Harris + Hoole and they are a growing concern, with as many as ten shops opening in Amersham, Twickenham and Walton-on-Thames, as well as the London one in Crouch End.
The Harris + Hoole coffee shop is given to a more personal theme as the names of each barista is flashed on a screen, and you get to know what their favourite tunes are, and on chalk boards are messages with smily faces and icons, similar to text speak.
However, there is nothing here to make you think that this is a shop with any connection to Tesco, and if there was, would it put people off?
‘I had no idea Tesco was involved,’ says Hannah Lovell, 32, a freelance TV presenter and production manager who is in the coffee shop with her husband Mark, also 32. ‘I only found out H+H was a chain a few days ago. It looks like a one-off, family-run coffee shop, doesn’t it?’
‘I think that knowing that this is a Tesco company will put some people off. Around here, people have always been very wary of the big stores taking over.’
This is Hannah’s fourth visit to H+H in the seven weeks since the coffee shop opened. Will the Tesco connection put her off coming again? ‘The coffee’s very good,’ she says, adding that she will probably be back.
Rival business people are more sceptical. Feyzan Ulker, 38, owns My Kind Of Coffee, a coffee shop close to H+H, and says: ‘I don’t have a problems with other independent coffee shops but I have a problem with Tesco.
‘They want to be everywhere — banks, car loans, opticians and pharmacies. They have everything. It’s unbelievable. Hideous.’
All the customers in H+H say they are impressed by the coffee shop. And many seem resigned to the fact that in the modern British High Street, it is increasingly difficult to escape the clutches of the country’s biggest supermarket group.
Tim Lunn, a 32-year-old sports business manager, says: ‘I think the Tesco thing is a shame. I want the money I spend here to stay local.
‘But like everyone else, I do some of my shopping at Tesco, so the connection wouldn’t keep me away from here.’
However, passer-by Nas Hussain, a 33-year-old graphic designer, says he won’t be visiting Harris + Hoole.
‘I love coffee, but knowing it’s half-owned by Tesco would put me off going inside. I don’t like the idea of a big faceless company owning it.’
There are some people who are purposely avoiding coffee shops like Starbucks, because of the recent tax corporation scam, so would it surprise customers to learn that Harris + Hoole is actually owned by an offshore holding company in low-tax Ireland, according to documents lodged at Companies House. This business strategy is often employed, entirely legally, by firms seeking to avoid UK tax.
A spokesman for Harris + Hoole declined to deny the suggestion, instead saying: ‘We are registered in Ireland. This is to facilitate the international franchising of our business should we decide to expand internationally at some point in the future.’
Tesco – coming to a town near you, in whatever guise!