Please excuse the lengthy title, and I don’t expect many of you to be particularly familiar with the Harris + Hoole coffee chain, but don’t worry, you will be. Coffee culture is as big a part of society in the UK as it is here in the States, and similarly, there’s no shortage of coffee drama in the UK either. Harris + Hoole is a chain of 10 cafes in the UK that opened up in 2012, identifiable by their trendy interiors and little guy feel, aka, they aren’t like Starbucks.
For the average coffee drinking citizen, Harris + Hoole must have seemed like a great alternative. Founded and operated by the three Tolley siblings, coffee entrepreneurs and down to earth people, how could one say no? That is, until their secret got out. Enter Tesco, the third largest retailer in the world and rumored 49% shareholder of Harris + Hoole. The company’s CEO, Nick Tolley, claimed that Tesco would have little to do with day to day operations and the Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke made a claim that the Harris + Hoole brand had its own value and that it was the Tolley’s business and that they (Tesco) were merely helping them to realize their potential.
Needless to say however, people felt duped. Their lovely indie coffee shop was actually funded by a huge retailer, and to great effect mind you, as there are plans to open an 11th H+H store in Whitstable in the UK. Many people have now claimed that they wouldn’t have had anything to do with Harris + Hoole if they had known Tesco was involved from the beginning. That, and the majority of the backlash the company has faced was due to people have felt that they were mislead, that a corporate behemoth was masquerading as a family owned coffee chain.
Bear with me now as I segue to our next topic of discussion to events taking place here in the US. I’ll admit that reading about the whole Harris + Hoole situation was interesting to me on its own, but a recent development has got me thinking about it even more. When I found out that the Denver based coffee distributor Boyer Coffee Co. had just named former Walmart executive Mark Goodman as their president and CEO it got me thinking. According to Pamela Boyer, the daughter of the company’s founder, Goodman was hired as a result of her father’s wishes to find a “...professional executive that could lead Boyer coffee to the next level of growth...” At the moment, Boyer is a roaster and distributor that operates out of an old schoolhouse that was converted into a cafe and roasting facility. Also, Boyer’s cafe is incredibly charming.
So for a recap, Boyer is a local roaster in Denver, family owned, operates out of a delightful converted schoolhouse, and just hired a former Walmart executive to help “lead Boyer coffee to the next level of growth.” When the Tolley family needed money, they turned to Tesco. With a former Walmart executive in charge Boyer Coffee Co. it’ll be interesting to see where they might turn. Might the Boyer family turn to Walmart under Goodman’s guidance to acquire the resources to grow and expand their company?
While all of this is me speculating, I couldn’t help but notice some of the parallels in the circumstances. Will Boyer Coffee Co. become the next Harris + Hoole? And more importantly, would people accept a chain of cafes owned by Walmart? Can specialty coffee blend with big business? The Tolleys did it, it’ll be interesting to see who else throws their hat into the ring.