A pair of entrepreneurs are looking to bring a new twist to Birmingham’s burgeoning coffee culture. They spilt the beans to Post Editor Alun Thorne.
One thing Birmingham’s not short of is coffee shops. From the international brands to the growing number of independents, you don’t have to look too far for a cup of the old java.
Indeed, the growing number of coffee houses is playing a key role in the current renaissance of Birmingham’s food and drink scene and was even name-checked in a recent article about the city in the New York Times – but that’s not to say it can’t be improved according to a pair of successful local entrepreneurs who are about to throw their collective hats into the mix.
Simon Ford, who previously ran a successful multi-million pound website in the Middle East, is launching Yorks Bakery Cafe at the top of Newhall Street with the backing of Nicola Fleet-Milne, founder and owner of Fleet-Milne Residential.
The coffee house will also double as a deli and sell artisan breads that are baked on site.
The launch of the shop, which will open at the end of the summer, is the culmination of more than two years of work for Mr Ford after the recession put paid to his previous business in Dubai.
Previously the 37-year-old worked for a number of major brands in retail and hospitality as well as for himself, including working for several years at Next, where he ran its Oxford Circus store and then opened stores for the chain in Qatar and Bahrain.
In 2003 he was offered the opportunity to run a flagship Debenhams store in Dubai but after 18 months decided to start up his own online gift experience website “similar to lastminute.com”.
However, he left the Middle East three years ago with his wife and three children (he now has a fourth) when the recession saw business turn sour.
He said: “We were turning over $4 million in a year, then the recession hit and we lost 70 per cent of our business in three months and it was a big wake-up call to the difference of running a business in the Middle East and running one in the UK.
"In the end it became very difficult to the point of death threats from people saying ‘pay us what you owe or you will not like what we are going to do to you’. We left within 48 hours and lost everything.”
Back in the UK, Mr Ford used his extensive retail and marketing experience to find work as a consultant while “networking like mad” and looking at new projects.
It was working with Simon Jenner – who is head of incubation at Birmingham Science Park as well as one of the founders of Urban Coffee Company – that he first had the idea of an artisan bakery and coffee shop.
Two years on, the project has been backed by HSBC and the Aston Reinvestment Trust as well as Ms Fleet-Milne, who is the only individual investor.
“I first met Simon at an entrepreneur event at the science park when he was giving a talk if I remember of what to do when it all goes wrong,” said Ms Fleet-Milne.
She said it was clear from the outset they shared similar ideas about business and both recognised the potential for the new venture.