Sunday, 11 November 2012

Walk round and smell the coffee II

WHAT A DELICIOUS SMELL OF COFFEE! How often has this thought flashed through your mind as you walked down the street? For never was there a fresher, more appetising smell  than that of freshly roasted, freshly ground coffee. Coffee for breakfast - delicious, fragrant,  whether it accompanies rolls, or bacon and eggs. After the midday meal, helping your digestion;  the perfect accompaniment to the evening meal,  mellowing the day's memories, reviving flagging  energies and brain. Magical Coffee! And here you can obtain the choicest Coffee  to suit your every need - carefully and expertly blended,  from the finest crops of the world, freshly roasted,  freshly ground, ready for your enjoyment.  at 2/4 lb Note the address:  Herbert G. Took The Best Market 18, Bridge Street, Halesworth Phone 95
1941 advertisement

After my perambulation around Southwold to audit the range of coffee vendors that might have to compete with the Costa coffee chain expected to open there, (opened in Feb 2013) I thought in fairness I should also have a look at closer to home in Halesworth.

Once again this is a purely subjective personal opinion of how tempting the coffee vendors in Halesworth's Thoroughfare and Market Place are to customers in the same food sector as Pret A Manger, EAT, Caffe Nero or Costa.

I did not undertake a taste test of their wares but I went to see how they presented their offer with an eye that the customer may have young children or be elderly and so have concerns about accessibilityGiven that Halesworth is enthusiastically involved in the Mary Portas project, I hope these comments and any criticism felt is taken in the spirit it is intended.

If there are any errors in this I welcome additions and corrections but this is based on what information was available in the field.

opening hours

I made the chart above from the visible information of the hours of operation of places that obviously serve a decent coffee. Like many small towns, there isn't much to do in Halesworth in the evenings apart from go into the pubs and restaurants, though at one time Halesworth boasted a cinema and a pool hall. The New Cut Arts Centre has been a real boon as it offers an inexpensive non-alcoholic alternative to pub entertainment. The recent opening of the Bay Tree Bistro and Number 10 has extended the range of dining choices too. The Angel has a covered courtyard space if you don't want to go to a bar or out for a meal in the evening.

During the day in the Thoroughfare a visitor has a choice of seven establishments. In the Market Place there are another two establishments and a little further way, the Co-op supermarket has a coffee shop as well.

The Thoroughfare

In the approaches to the pedestrianised Thoroughfare from the car park (which a campaign by local people recently has won free parking) several establishments have signboards but I think these contribute to visual clutter and are potential hazards for pedestrians, cyclists and buggies. It might be a idea for the town's Portas Group to provide a fingerpost board pointing to all the food and drink establishments at the car park exit? 

Coffee Shops

In the midst of the Thoroughfare the White Hart Pub is well placed to capture the pedestrian traffic passing its door. At the time of writing, its tied brewer Adnams was advertising this tenancy saying "the White Hart successfully balances the needs of both drinkers and diners." That's an honest assessment. It remains open and is popular. I didn't find an official website for it. Comments on social media rate highly its steak and mushroom sandwiches.

The White Hart - pub meals

Baytree Bistro - smart but not stiff, morning coffee, evening bistro
In July 2013 with much regret and much disappointment the Bay Tree Bistro announced its closure. Their lease was up for renewal and while its terms were reasonable, the general trend of declining footfall and strong competition did not give the proprietor's the confidence to continue. While the Bay Tree could hold its own for quality, their margins were probably too slim to survive offering such quality with the opening of another two restaurants in the town. An increasingly crowded marketplace ought to be a case study for the benefits of a free-market, sometimes the customer doesn't always win.

The Bay Tree Bistro occupies one of the oldest buildings in Halesworth and is reputed to be haunted. It stays open late on Wednesdays to Saturdays but shuts at 5 pm on Monday and Tuesday. Closing time really depends on demand, the proprietor Kim tells me. Follow @baytreebistro on twitter for news. The exterior is so attractive it might give the impression that its too smart for a casual coffee unless you see customers sitting in the window seats. It often has themed events or live music in the evenings and has grown to become one of the social centres of the town. The loo is via a narrow staircase but otherwise this ancient building doesn't have major disability access issues. 

Bridge St Cafe - big inside and popular with walkers and cyclists, catches the breakfast crowd
The Bridge Street Cafe is one of the earliest opening eating places in the Thoroughfare and it is popular as a breakfast and lunch rendezvous with walkers and cyclists coming in for meals prepared by its second generation proprietor Annabelle who has taken its menu a notch or two up from the days of yore. The smallish windows make it hard to pitch its wares but there are signboards outside. No official website. Telephone 01986 873 236

Cafe Frapa - casual coffee shop
New arrival Cafe Frapa has taken over a space which has been in the recent past a furniture shop, a cafe/art gallery and historically this was the haberdashers store. It's ideally suited to be coffee shop/art gallery again. The full length curved windows of its storefront (which is listed) makes it easy to see the barista coffee, snacks and desserts on offer eat in or to go. It is easy to access and kid friendly. They serve local Paddy & Scott's coffee. Like The Cut, it has wi-fi too. They have a Facebook page.

Edwards - restaurant/coffee shop and home made pastries too
Edwards Restaurant only has a narrow frontage to pitch its traditional home-cooked food made with local ingredients but they've done their best to tempt customers (it is much bigger inside than it looks). Tripadvisor's good reviews reflect personal attention Karen and Kevin give each customer. They can serve any drink to take away whether filter coffee, lattes and cappuccinos, hot chocolate, frappĂ©, milk shakes and tea. It is kid and access friendly. Follow on twitter for special offers and local gossip at @karen4prime

Focus - deli, gift shop, organic grocer, health foods and coffee bar
Focus Organic is a Halesworth institution. Some people tell me it's what first attracted them to the town, some tell me it's what prevents them leaving as it is a social club for people with wider views than traditionally found in Suffolk.

The barista station near the front window and the customers sitting outside makes the artisanal coffee offer obvious though the seating offer is only outside. It has a wide range of savoury and sweet deli items too. There is a gift shop at the back of the store with a space-time wormhole into which pocket money and spare time vanish. If you need to occupy children with pocket-money, next to the Bay Tree is an independent toy shop which local celebrity Emma Freud rated as one of her top ten reasons to live in Suffolk, and described the area around her home in nearby Walberswick her 'foodie heaven'. 

It is evident from the touches like stained glass, well displayed merchandise and the olde-worlde-while-contemporary feel overall that the proprietors have a great deal of aesthetic sensibility and recognise the value of such attention to detail.

Angel Hotel - a bar, restaurant and courtyard cafe cover all the bases
The Angel Hotel is an old coaching inn with a popular bar, restaurant and covered courtyard area. While its coffee offer isn't quite as obvious as other places, the pizza menu signs inform the passer-by that it offers more than pub fare. The local business association hold regular breakfasts here and on Friday nights the bar is packed with mate-hunting young people. The covered courtyard is a pleasant place to have coffee and a snack without taking children into the bar.

Market Place

Pinky's - barista cafe and poetry venue 

At first glance Pinky's might appear not to be in the artisanal coffee sector but it has a barista range and does a good range of home-cooked meals and snacks. Perhaps some window lettering of 'cafe' would help it catch the passing vehicle traffic as it faces a junction. The entrance has a step down so its interior is lower than the street level but it is spacious inside. The food cabinets and counter would be more obvious if the blinds were kept open and the windows weren't cluttered with posters at eye-level - though that's a welcome amenity. It often stays open longer than the hours on the door if there are enough customers or the town is busy with an event. It is also the venue for regular poetry evenings. No website. Telephone 01986 874 243

Number 10 - upmarket dining but serves coffees and cakes all day
Number 10 closed in March 2013. The premises have now become Tilly's, formerly a Southwold institutionNumber 10 isn't in the most ideal position to catch the eye of pedestrians or passing road traffic but it has a commanding presence in the town's Market Place, which does have a weekly Wednesday market. They serve good coffee and cakes and cream teas through the day as well as lunch and dinner. Proprietor Sam Goodbourne has greatly expanded Halesworth's dining offer with local produce and has refurbished an important building that was utterly wasted as a pet shop. This restaurant may be the anchor the Market Place needs to develop a hub for good local food and entertainment. There are a couple of restaurant properties nearby that would be ideal for redevelopment.

The Cut - art gallery, theatre, music, food, drink and good coffee

Halesworth's community arts centre The Cut is also in a relatively poor position to attract passing foot and car traffic but it does try by posters and a sign board and leaflets to get train passengers at the nearby station. It is the only place in Halesworth with both good coffee and wi-fi and comfortable sofas so gets my recommendation at every opportunity for a social or business meeting. If there is an event on in the evening the cafe will stay open to the interval. There is a pay car park a few yards away.

In summary, in my opinion, the casual social coffee drinker on a budget is very welcome in Halesworth and is assured satisfaction. All the establishments make a clear offer of their product, all seem to be child friendly and there are very few access issues. Coffee drinkers around here don't go for much barista art but if the demand was there, I am sure Halesworth's coffee shops could meet it.

Local coffee

Although the beans have to travel many food-miles, there are at least four five local coffee roasters and blenders in Suffolk who supply local establishments and employ local people, including one right in Halesworth. Please patronise them and ask your vendor where your coffee comes from.

Freshpac Ltd
founded 30 years ago by Gerald & Queenie Salter in Halesworth

Deepmills Coffee
Jonathan Draycott & Mary Mummery in Melton

Suffolk Coffee Company
Christopher Rayner-Green in Peasenhall

Paddy & Scott's
Paddy Bishopp and Scott Russell in Earl Soham

Thistledown Cottage
Gary Rothwell in Broome near Eye

The future

Tourism marketing logo

Halesworth prides itself that it is still a working market town. There is a weekly market and regular home-produce markets. There is a very good range of independent shops with high quality butchers, greengrocers, delicatessens, hardware and most other services available but they face competition from the major supermarkets nearby. A shop selling sporting goods, phones and cameras recently closed because it couldn't compete with the supermarkets in Beccles and Saxmundham.  It appears that a logo was created to market Halesworth and the others in the Blyth Valley with a brand identity but I couldn't find its author online and it certainly isn't applied with any consistency. An attractive directory of local food was recently published highlighting the comprehensive range and quality of what's produced within ten miles of the town, positioning Halesworth clearly as a centre for quality food.

Tourism promotion pitched at food lovers

Though on the 'wrong' side of the A12 for tourist traffic, the train station offers visitors access to Southwold and the coast with a bus connection. Halesworth is also a popular base for cycling holidays, being surrounded by a network of quiet routes to the coast and many excellent rural pubs. There is a volunteer-run bus service offering a daily 'Hoppa' service around the town and to nearby villages. Most of the housing is still occupied by local people but second-homers are gradually discovering the area. There are two large industrial estates and several creative businesses and international charities based in the town and a great number of creative home-workers and artists enriching the town's life and filling several art galleries.

Halesworth in Transition's food directory

I have considered it would be worthwhile for the town to promote itself as a place for small conferences and social or business meetings, along with the retail offer in the town, so I have encouraged various places that have meeting facilities, such as projectors, wi-fi and conference rooms, to produce a community event directory. The number of places for coffee or lunch would also be worth including in this directory. However some local organisations need to work together. While the town council can still be bullied into putting up plastic bunting when the community had made its own, many people's imagination and energy is not forthcoming.

With the Latitude Festival and the High Tide theatre festival and its own month-long arts festival as regular fixtures, although Gig in the Park fell victim to rising ancillary costs, in the long term Halesworth is likely to see more coffee drinking bohemians drawn to the town. It may have the potential to become another Totnes or Stroud, where traditional agricultural enterprise mixes with creative ones and invigorates a declining community.

I reckon as the town's footfall is not high enough for Costa's model, the present coffee shops can breath easy for now. The biggest threat to its independent shops would be another supermarket in the town. So far Halesworth has been able to prevent the incursion of Tesco who have purchased a large site next to the current supermarket and while local opposition has been strong and planning permission was refused at the last appeal, Tesco and some local people keen to profit from the situation haven't yet given up.

Other outlets

There are several other Halesworth food outlets which don't make an offer of artisanal coffee:

The Seashell - fish & chips
The Swan - live music, sports pub
Raiputh - Indian restaurant
Singtom Neeyom - Thai restaurant
Halesworth Fish & Chip Shop - take-away
Golden House - Chinese take-away
Hong Kong - Chinese take-away
Istanbul  - burgers, pizza and kebabs take-away
In the carpark of Ridgeons is a snack bar that is open from 7 am.

A wide range of other goods and services are listed on the Halesworth website

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