The thriving market town of Northwich in Cheshire is a must-visit for anyone in Greater Manchester looking for a unique day out. Just a short hour’s drive away, the charming town center is lined with timber-framed buildings, unique and specialist independent businesses and hosts a monthly Artisan Market packed hand-crafted products.
But a quick walk around Witton Street also reveals that the town is heaving with coffee shops – with 12 independent cafés in amongst six Costa Coffee shops. The question poses as to how these small, independent cafés make their mark and survive against so many of their well-established, word renowned competitors.
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Betsy Eden runs the independent Board Beans café on Witton Street with her husband. She says that her café de ella is niche by selling board games, and having space for friends to meet and play games together is the reason her café de ella does so well.
She told Cheshire Live : “I always hoped it would be [a success], and I feel that Northwich has embraced us. I’d like to think that, because we are a destination café, that we do fetch in people from outside Northwich.”
Betsy believes that the number of independent cafés in the town represents a changing culture on the high street. “The way the high street is going, it’s more leisure focused,” she said.
“The shops aren’t as popular as they were, and there’s more leisure; more places to eat out, places to drink and to bring the family out. In Northwich itself, there’s quite a lot to do for families in particular, and family businesses too.”
Ionwen, from the Nantwich area, has traveled up to Northwich to mind a shop that has been set up above Abda café.
“If I have to,” she says, “Costa is probably the one I do go to, but I suppose that’s mainly because they are everywhere. But I would rather go to an independent, to have that whole experience of trying different coffees – you can get filter here, you can get Americanos, it’s a whole experience.
“I think it’s nice to see the independents standing up to them. These towns got so battered over the last couple of years. Anything that makes your time in town a bit different is a good thing.
“You don’t want to always be going to these big businesses, they’re all going to be fine at the end of the day. You come here, you find little quirky things and you meet different people as well.”
Downstairs, Abda who owns her self-named café says that she doesn’t believe that the independents are competing with Costa at all.
She says: “Yeah, there are six Costas, but Costa is one thing, and an independent such as ourselves with specialty coffee and homemade cakes and food, it’s different customers. There’s room to have multiple coffee shops because we all offer something a little bit different.
“I’m not a competitive person, and I’ve literally put my life and soul into this place, and that’s why we’re hopefully doing OK. Costa have their own brand, other coffee shops have their own brand and we have our own brand, and it’s just about concentrating on ourselves and doing what we do best.
“I’m very particular about coffee. It is specialty coffee, which means it’s the top five per cent of coffee in the world; we work directly with our roasters to have our own blend, and our roasters work directly with the farmers, so it’s actually more ethical than Fairtrade.
“A lot of people don’t realize that to be Fairtrade accredited you have to pay into it, so some of their profit does come off. Our farmers get better than Fairtrade pricing.”
Abda added: “Every bean is handpicked, it’s roasted very specifically to the flavor profile that we want and need, and we’re very specific about using the bean in its sweet-spot, which is two weeks after roasting, and we’re really particular about the machines we use and how we do it.
“A lot of people don’t realize that, they think: ‘It’s just a cup of coffee,’ well it’s not just another cup of coffee, a lot more goes into it, and I hope people can taste that.”
The current climate, however, does present a plethora of challenges for the independent coffee shops, she says, reflecting back on the past two years of the Coronavirus pandemic and, bang in the middle of that, a devastating flood that hit Northwich and Abda’s extremely hard.
Abda explains: “We’re still feeling the effects of the flood, and though we’re out of Covid – so to speak – we’re still really feeling the effects of that. The current economic client is really tough, and businesses are feeling it more than ever.
“Everything is getting more expensive, and as a small independent, I can’t absorb that cost. We have to put prices up just to cover ourselves, and we’re still trying to recover the costs of two years of Covid and the flood .
“Climate change has affected the way you grow coffee, and therefore, producing good quality coffee – even just getting it into the country is more expensive. You can’t grow it like you used to be able to.
“Coffee grows in different climates and at different altitudes, and with it getting a little too hot in certain areas, the crops aren’t as fruitful. Coffee comes from a fruit, you get the fruit and pulp it out, and it’s just not growing at the same rate.
“It’s also the type of coffee. Some beans tend to be a little bit more robust, but they tend to be your cheaper beans. So when you’re growing specialty beans, which are hard to grow anyway, the climate affects it even more .”
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