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WatchHouse Coffee has a further nine sites in the pipeline for the UK and “four or five irons in the fire in New York as well”, founder Roland Horne told the audience at MCA’s Food To Go Conference this week.

Speaking on a panel about the future of coffee shops, alongside 200 Degrees, Blank Street Coffee UK and Allegra Group, Horne said he felt “very bullish” about the future growth opportunities for the brand.

It went into Covid with four coffee houses and emerged from the pandemic with 10, having just opened its 11th in Marylebone which has been trading really well.

Its UK pipeline includes a site on Southampton Street in Covent Garden, and one in Bath – its first outside London – which is due to open by July 2024. Its first site in New York, on Fifth Avenue, will open in November.

He said the business had put a lot of time and money into creating its instore experience, taking a very holistic approach that encompasses the product quality, the food, the ergonomics and the culture, as well as how it can digitally engage in across all those spaces to improve its value proposition, he said.

Stephen Fern, MD at 200 Degrees said its strong culture, focus on preserving cash and the fact it was a coffee shop business that “makes decisions based on Excel spreadsheets” had put it in good stead for growth coming out of the pandemic.

It has also been able to control its main cost base as it roasts its own coffee in stores, “so in terms of margin pressures, it’s maybe not as much as it could be for others and means the financial operating model makes us set to continue to grow”.

Despite the fact there are a number of coffee shop operators all looking to grow on the UK’s high streets, Fern said “there are so many opportunities out there”. He said that when it came to new shop openings, 200 Degrees was also focused on making the best use of technology in order to make its barista’s lives easier and to improve speed of service and consistency.

Ignacio Llado, UK MD, Blank Street Coffee said the vibrancy of coffee shop sector, the proportion of out of home consumption, and the availability of real estate, were just some of the factors that gave the US brand the confidence to launch in London last summer.

The business, which launched initially as a coffee cart business, is predominately based in New York, but saw more similarities with the London market than other US cities outside New York City.

Llado said Blank Street soon realised that coffee carts weren’t the best growth engine for the business and instead is looking to open small to medium-sized locations which enable it to focus a lot more on the design, the experience and the different touch points for the consumer.

“Because we were starting from scratch in London, we had the opportunity to be a lot more thoughtful about how our stores looking, and that format is a bit different to how the business looks in New York.

Jeffrey Young, founder, Allegra, said that while smaller format stores have a lot of benefits, he said it was about “right sizing for locations”. “I think that gone are the days when we just put these immense lounging sites for people to sit and spend all day in, it’s very uncommercial,” Young said.

While there is a role for those community coffee shops, where there is more seating and dwell time, Young said that in reality, times are tough, and operators need to make the most of their retail space.