Esquires Coffee fuelled by insatiable demand for lattes

New Traders: Kealan O’Connor, Esquires Coffee

Kealan O’Connor opened his first coffee shop in Drogheda in 2011. A Dublin outlet will open this month. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Kealan O’Connor opened his first coffee shop in Drogheda in 2011. A Dublin outlet will open this month. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Kealan O’Connor was 22 when he decided on the business he wanted to go into. He’d found the building he wanted to open it in – an old bank building in Drogheda – “and wanted a great product”. He was researching his idea of opening a coffee shop when he discovered international franchise operation Esquires Coffee and contacted Tony McVerry, managing director of the franchise operation in Ireland.

Five years later, he is an area franchisee for Esquires Coffee shop, which will open its first outlet in Dublin city, on O’Connell Street, this month.

Esquires Coffee – founded in Vancouver in 1993, now owned by New Zealand company Cooks Global Foods – is a brand without much recognition here yet. But the business model McVerry was offering appealed to O’Connor: as a franchisee, he didn’t need to have any catering experience – Esquires would design and fit out his coffee shop, hire and train staff, and introduce him to suppliers.

“I was always interested in business,” says O’Connor, who focused on starting a business of his own after leaving school in Navan. It helped that he was from a business background: his father, Eugene, is a builder.

He needed money to open his first coffee shop, and got a five-year loan from Ulster Bank, who were “incredibly helpful”.

The cost of opening a shop varies, of course, depending on size, but the investment in fitout and equipment comes to roughly between €100,000 and €250,000. The franchisee pays Esquires Coffee a fee of €19,500 plus VAT.

The coffee shop he opened on Drogheda’s West Street in November 2011 turned a profit in the first year and he had to double its space. O’Connor seems surprised at how quickly he succeeded: partly, he agrees, it’s down to the seemingly unquenchable, virtually recession-proof demand for coffee across Ireland. It’s also due to Esquires’ emphasis on community-based coffee shops, owned by local operators – it’s what distinguishes their shops from corporate chains, says McVerry.

Competition

There was a lot of competition in Drogheda at the time, with 16 coffee shops in the town. Like all the other outlets in the Esquires Coffee chain, O’Connor sells 100 per cent organic Fairtrade coffee plus a range of healthy food options that includes wraps, salads and sandwiches. He believes the fresh food products, plus an emphasis on friendly customer service, were key to his success.

In 2014, Cooks Global Foods bought the Esquires Coffee business and McVerry appointed O’Connor an area franchisee, with responsibility for Louth, Meath and Dublin city and county. So five years after opening his Drogheda shop, O’Connor, at 27, has his own company, Cofran, to run the area franchise, while still reporting to McVerry.

Dublin city centre gets its first Esquires this month and O’Connor plans to open four more in the Dublin area this year. He and McVerry are actively seeking people who want a business opportunity, who know and understand customer service and are good communicators. “We’re interested in anyone willing to work hard and be their own boss.”

Right now, he is looking for three franchisees to run outlets for which Cofran has already agreed terms, in particular one in Clare Hall retail park in Malahide. He is also keen to open one in Dundalk.

Currently there are eight Esquires Coffee Houses in Ireland, in Galway, Mullingar, Longford, Navan, Drogheda, Clonmel, Carrick-on-Shannon and in Airside Retail Park in Swords. Nationally, the plan is for Esquires Coffee to expand its Irish chain from the current eight outlets to 15-17 in 2016 and 25 by the end of 2017. They believe independent coffee house operators might be interested in converting their stores to a recognised international brand; they have also been approached by a hotel group to operate a chain of in-house coffee shops.