Have Tescos Bought a Independent Coffee Chain to Take Over Closed Clinton Cards Shops?
What next, a Gardening Chain to take over HMV stores, a pahrmacist to take over Jessops stores? Reminds me of Douglas Adams parable of the shoeshops
The founder of an “independent” coffee shop chain that has come under fire for taking a multi-million pound backing from Tesco said he had no choice because of the “nightmare” of raising money from banks.
In his first interview since the furore about the “disingenuous” Harris + Hoole group blew up, Australian Nick Tolley insisted the brand — owned up to 49 per cent by the supermarket giant — was not a “ruse” designed to cover the tracks of further Tesco expansion.
He also said the chain plans its “first foray” into the centre of the capital with a flagship branch in Tooley Street near London Bridge station.
Tesco is believed to have made an investment running to several millions for its stake of which around £2 million has been invested to date.
The fast-growing “artisan” coffee group, which was founded by three Australian siblings, has attracted publicity since the Tesco connection emerged this month.
Critics accused Harris + Hoole, named after two coffee drinkers mentioned in the Pepys Diaries, of acting as a “Tesco Coffee” stalking horse for Britain’s most powerful retailer. Some have even suggested it should be boycotted because of the connection with a company sometimes dubbed “Tescopoly”.
But chief executive Mr Tolley said he had been left with little alternative to accepting the Tesco support.
He had originally applied for a £300,000 loan from Lloyds but this had taken 18 months to approve. During that time the bank had knocked the amount down to £165,000 and demanded an interest rate of more than 10 per cent.
Mr Tolley, 37, said: “Debt finance has been incredibly hard to come across even under the Government’s loan guarantee scheme to encourage liquidity.” He said he had been introduced “serendipitously” to Tesco by “a friend of a friend” in November 2011 when other sources of finance seemed closed. “My friend suggested an introduction, we met up for a coffee and to their credit they got what we were trying to do from the beginning.”
The supermarket chain agreed to put up several million for its non-controlling stake — the rest is owned by Tolley, his sister Laura and brother Andrew — but has no other role.
He said: “I appreciate there are a lot of people out there who have got it in for Tesco and see this as a ruse but nothing could be further from the truth. Tesco have been good enough to help out with the finance but everything else, including the culture and the values of the business are down to me, my brother and my sister.
“I’m not naive enough to think people will struggle to make the link with Tesco, but they’ve been nothing but supportive.”
The Tesco backing allowed Harris + Hoole to buy 13 branches of the collapsed greeting card chain Clinton Cards from its administrators last year.
So far, 10 Harris + Hoole coffee shops have opened and more are planned next at North Finchley and Crowborough in East Sussex, as well as Tooley Street. The remaining former Clinton’s outlets, likely to be converted into Harris + Hoole branches in due course, are in Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, Orpington, Radlett in Hertfordshire, Ware in Hertfordshire, Weybridge in Surrey and Whitstable.
Mr Tolley, who grew up near the Australian capital of Canberra, came to London in 2006 when he said there were “only two places you could get a good cup of coffee” — Flat White in Soho and Monmouth in Borough