Stuart Lee Archer

Response to ‘The Difficult Middle’ @Jimseven

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2013 at 6:19 pm

As has more than frequently happened over the past few years the eloquent Mr James Hoffmann of Square Mile Coffee Roasters has stimulated my mind. His recent blog post entitled ‘The Difficult Middle’ struck a chord while at the same time prompting me to respond with a perspective from ‘the other side’.

As you will undoubtedly know my family business is Pumphreys Coffee.  What you may not know is that Pumphreys Coffee has been around Newcastle in various forms since 1750, a brief history of which can be found here. 

The coffee industry as changed dramatically over the 11 years I’ve been involved in a full time capacity at Pumphreys. The transition that we as an ‘Institution’ have had to make just to stay in business has been nothing short of dramatic.


It was the idea that a business should be treated like a living organism, and nurtured and taught.


The premise that a business is a living organism is as much true for the start up as it is for the institution. A business must be flexible enough to survive and yet static enough as to be able to market themselves effectively. We have had a lot of years to learn but it doesn’t mean what we know will help us in the future. Scary indeed James.

I too over the last couple of years have been thinking a lot about longevity. 

There will be a major change at Pumphreys Coffee in the coming months that will undoubtedly have an effect on the business. I’m sure this has happened in every family business with a history of more than one generation and I’m sure we certainly won’t be the last. The business having been split between two brothers their families will once again go back to one family. “What’s the problem with that?” I here you say. Well there isn’t a problem at all but there will have to be large changes in the way the business operates to be able to make that transition.  For the last 30 years there have been lots of people around to take the ultimate responsibility with roles being spread around various family members. Over the coming months/ years that will be down to one, yours truly. With this in mind I have been contemplating the future and what the business will have to look like. This has also led me to think about automation. 


At times I feel like we are not in control of our business at Pumphreys. That seems a little shocking I know but stay with me. We have been supplying the region with fresh coffee for so long now that we actually have 90 year olds buying coffee from our Grainger Market stall who have only drunk Pumphreys Coffee all their lives. This is the other end of the spectrum to James. When you have customers who have experienced every product your company has produced in living memory you become incredibly beholden to them and to the history of the company. To change their coffee too dramatically will be a cut to their core. I have met people who had worked for us for 30 years and retired 30 years ago. Our history, methods and products are ingrained in the psyche of our customers and previous staff. I don’t want to lose that knowledge but I also don’t have most of it. I intend to claw as much back as possible before it is lost to time.


There are two things at Pumphreys that really differentiate us from the rest of the industry. 

We roast on ‘open flame’ coffee roasters and we have been in business for 263 years.

These are the two things that I/we value most as a company. I currently roast all our coffee on our two Whitmee roasters and head up our training. In reality these are two things that I can’t be doing in the future. I need to take a more global view of the company while still maintaining the standards we have created over our history and safeguarding the knowledge we have gained. This is something that I owe to everyone who has ever been involved in Pumphreys and for everyone who has ever been a customer. 

I have a lot of respect for McDonald’s ‘Restaurants’ and the franchise founder Ray Kroc. The one thing they have done very well is create a very consistent experience and product across thousands of operations. Almost all the coffee shops I have visited in my lifetime, ‘third wave’ or not haven’t got the ability to do that from day to day. Can we learn something from automation and modelling like a franchise prototype? Dam right we can. 

Very few businesses start out to last for 200 years.

Onwards and upwards, with an eye on the past and a hand in the fire!


Pumphreys Coffee Centre and Brewing Emporium

In Coffee on October 10, 2011 at 6:30 am

As of today we officially open our newest venture the Pumphreys Coffee Centre and Brewing Emporium. As many of you know Pumphreys have had a site selling freshly roasted coffee beans, loose tea and various associated paraphernalia in the Grainger Market for over 40 years. We haven’t been fortunate enough to have the facilities at the Coffee Centre, or permission, to serve coffee and tea….. Until Now!

The adjoining units have always been pretty stable and there have been very few changes over the years so when the two units attached to the back of the coffee centre came up we jumped at the chance to take them on.

The idea behind the ‘Brewing Emporium’ is to showcase the coffees and teas we already supply, help people brew coffee and tea better at home, be a little one stop shop for coffee shop spares equipment and to caffeinate the general populous!

In terms of the kit we will be using (I know some of you will be eager to know) we want to be able showcase our coffees so have chosen appropriately.

Espresso machine: San Remo Verona TCS
Main Grinder: Anfim Super Caimano
Guest Grinder: Mahlkonig Vario
Decaf Grinder: Mahlkonig Vario
Brew Bar Boiler: Marco Über Boiler

So please pop down and give us a visit!

Quality – where to draw the line

In Uncategorized on September 30, 2011 at 6:37 pm

I’ve been rushing around this week setting up our new coffee shop on the back of our existing Grainger Market site in Newcastle. As usual with any development everything has taken that little bit longer than I expected or planned for and it has made me think. Setting up a cafe is not an easy thing, not at all! It is hard work! In my experience anyone who thinks that it is has either trivialised that ‘type of business’ in their head and assumed that throwing money at it will work or has been involved in stamping out chain cafes after all the hard work has been done.

Whilst talking a break from the sawdust, paint and wiring I took the liberty of dropping in on Joe for a chat, who’s cafe Flat Caps does some great single origin pourovers and stupidly nice cheese scones. As always the conversation inevitably turned to coffee and a chap we both knew who’s cafe didn’t seem to be firing as we both thought it might. We found ourselves trying to understand the reasoning behind it. After some discussion we decided that his focus was wrong. His focus was on Quality! As soon as we said it we both realised that we sounded like every manager we hated from every greasy spoon/naff cafe we’d ever seen. ‘We’ll have to be careful saying things like that. That’s dangerously close to …… I know!’

To put things into perspective. In my opinion you can’t focus totally on quality…bare with me. In order to have a business in the first place you have to be in business and have a market. Now, if you are setting up a business you need to have a market to serve, if you don’t have one you will have to make one! Making a market takes a lot of money or a lot of time and most of the time both. If you are in the coffee industry, which most of you will be, you will know that coffee is either a numbers game or needs to be part of a business that sucks people in for bigger value sales. This is normally food in the form of sandwiches and cakes etc but can also be things like books, music, furniture and even in the case of ‘Look Mum No Hands’ food and bikes. If you are only making cups to coffee, which can be done, you need a lot of people every day just to get by. Say you make, to make it easy, £2 per coffee. How many of them do you need to make a day, every day to take home what you want/deserve for your hard work? Then consider how much your espresso machine cost you and how long you can do without that money in your account. Has the number gone up? Or course it has. Now consider your grinder… Up again? Now the rent…Up again? Etc etc. It’s a big number, isn’t it? Can you guarantee that number every day. Probably not! What do you do? If you haven’t got lots of money you have to take it slowly, build a strong ‘sticky’ market using the most reliable form of marketing ‘word of mouth’. Quality will create a sticky market for you but at what cost. There is really no limit to the amount of money you could spend increasing your quality. What is the right balance!

Now this is where Joe and I had an issue. Is spending all the money you have and some you don’t on the best machines, coffee and gadgets under the sun going to increase your market and ultimately make you a living?

Thoughts please!

Joe’s coffee shop – Flat Caps – A must visit in Newcastle



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