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Why Rochester is becoming the coffee shop capital of Kent

Fancy a cuppa? Or may be two or three?

Pop down to historic Rochester High Street and there are nearly 30 cafes in less than a third of a mile to whet your thirst.

People enjoying al-fresco cuppas in the high street
People enjoying al-fresco cuppas in the high street

Despite the stiff competition, the coffee shops and tea rooms are reporting brisk trade and indeed even expanding.

Their popularity is now rapidly earning the town the reputation of the cafe capital of Kent.

Speaking to shop managers between Star Hill and Rochester Bridge, the secret to success is apparent – they all bring something to the table.

The majority are independently-owned and although bosses inevitably felt the pinch during lockdown, things are very much on the up.

Rochester City Centre Forum chairman Sarah Tranter said: "The fact the cafes and tea rooms are flourishing is no accident.

City forum chairman Sarah Tranter
City forum chairman Sarah Tranter

"Over the past few years, the community of traders and residents have come together in a new way because they love the place for its quirkiness and beauty.

"But they also realise high streets have to learn a new way to attract people – it needs to be an experience and food is one of the best ways.

"During lockdown, nearly everything had to close down. It was a time of fear, but then a chance to re-group.

"A £10,000 grant from the government meant many shops, cafes and restaurants were able to paint the frontages and re-vamp inside where necessary.

"The quality of takeaway food on offer got better and better and now that everything has opened again, every single eating place is busy.

Costa was seen as a threat to other traders when it moved in
Costa was seen as a threat to other traders when it moved in
Tiny Tim's celebrating the royal wedding in 2018
Tiny Tim's celebrating the royal wedding in 2018

"People coming to Rochester have a huge choice to suit all budgets – from £3 for a cup of tea and bacon sandwich at Jaspers Community Cafe to £30 for a special afternoon tea at Cafe Nucleus."

Eight years ago the announcement that coffee giant Costa was coming to town caused a storm among traders.

Among those who objected was Tiny Tims, a few doors away from where the national chain was to move into the former Slinders florist.

But despite the storm it brewed up, Costa's arrival actually prompted some to step up their game.

Steve Morgan, who now runs the family-run business, feared it would squeeze them out of the market.

Fleur de The is expanding its premises
Fleur de The is expanding its premises

He said: "If anything it made us rethink what we were offering. You can't just survive selling the same teas, coffee and cakes."

After more than 10 years, expansion was inevitable. It introduced a more diverse menu, a take-away service and now hosts baby showers and hen parties.

Fleur de Thé, a vintage-style tea shop, has been in the High Street for seven years, and despite lockdown is looking to expand to a neighbouring shop.

Manager Jaki Martin said: "We are more than just a tea shop. We also sell gifts. While people principally come in for a cup of tea and cake, we also sell china teapots and plates.

"Music is important for atmosphere. We are playing the Rat Pack at the moment and also and '50s and '60s music.

Victoria's – a hidden gem
Victoria's – a hidden gem

"Older people like to reminisce, but we are getting more younger customers these days."

She hopes to have taken over the former Seaplane Works cafe by Christmas.

She added: "It's very exciting. We will be able to produce our own food on site and introduce a bigger menu with more savouries, breakfast and brunches.

"We will also be taking on more staff. We have all supported each other during lockdown."

Morley's traditional bakery is one of the longest-established outlets in the High Street.

Store 104 has opened a cafe at the back of the premises
Store 104 has opened a cafe at the back of the premises

It is also converting the adjoining empty property on the corner of Blue Boar Lane into a coffee shop.

And the newly-revamped Store 104 has branched out with a stylish retro eatery, Victoria's, tucked at the back.

Abi is manager of Rochester Coffee Company and stepped in to help her dad Alan Brett, who co-owns the business, for a couple of months.

A decade later, she is still there and loves it.

She said: "We are in a prime position, opposite the cathedral. In the summer we get tourists but we have our regular customers which is helpful.

Cafe Nucleus in Rochester High Street
Cafe Nucleus in Rochester High Street
Morley's is branching out
Morley's is branching out

"There is an amazing sense of community and we have a good team who have stuck together for years. Business seems to have got better since we have come out of lockdown."

One of the newest establishments is Cafe Nucleus which is housed in the historic Conservancy Building near the Guildhall.

Managing director Aaron Telford said: "We are continually looking at how we can innovate the guest experience, while continuously looking at how to deliver friendly and efficient service.

"We're incredibly lucky to call one of Rochester's grandest buildings home, which adds to the attraction.

"The boardroom is a grand and elegant space, like no other in Rochester and is the perfect backdrop for brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and more.

Tony Lorenzo patisserie
Tony Lorenzo patisserie

"All of this coupled with the unique local art, the Halpern Pop Gallery and being next to the Guildhall museum."

Above everything, business owners in the town are moving with the times, using technology to get their message out.

Over the last two years, the Visit Rochester UK Facebook and Instagram pages were launched and managed by marketing experts, who are volunteers.

As the ‘rules’ became clearer on what could be posted, a lot of the cafes started offering takeaway coffee and food.

Traders have also set up a WhatsApp group and have been helping each other throughout the past 18 months.

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