Spotlight on Atkinsons
In the coming weeks, Visit Lancaster is shining the spotlight on some of the brilliant independent businesses in our local Lancashire region.
This time, it’s Atkinsons! Atkinsons has been sourcing, roasting and brewing some of the best coffee and tea from around the world here in Lancaster since 1837.
The beautiful old shop is now the centrepiece of a thriving Independent Coffee sector. Atkinsons are big believers in Relationship Coffee. Building strong sustainable links with their coffee growers and like-minded café owners, as well as coffee enthusiasts at home.
We spoke with owner Ian Steel and here’s what he has to share.
How would you describe Atkinsons in a line or two?
Atkinsons is a local institution loved by Lancastrians. Its shop is a survivor of a bygone age but its cafés, in iconic historic buildings, are renowned for being at the cutting edge of the speciality coffee scene and offer a relaxed friendly vibe for locals and visitors alike.
What was the inspiration behind starting atkinsons?
For Sue and I, when we took over in 2005 it was to extend our morning coffee moment to last all day, all the working week and to see others enjoy these amazing products that wash up on our shelves from all over the world and to do justice to them and tell their stories.
For Thomas Atkinson back in 1837 it was to offer affordable premium quality teas as an alternative to the six other tea merchants that were plying their trade in the bustling west-facing port of Lancaster at the beginning of the Victorian age.
What was Atkinsons like in the early days?
How far back do you want to go?! The original launch ad in the Lancaster Guardian 06/10/1837 stated that “the grasshopper tea warehouse” was open for the sale of tea, coffee, cocoa, refined sugars and spices. We still offer the same highly specialised range. They are affordable luxuries that are part of everyday life. The famous shelves of tea & coffee canisters above a rare example of a ‘spice run’ of drawers, the brass scales, the long mahogany counter are all features that have been there for generations but we keep them in daily use so that future generations can catch a glimpse of the way we were.
How has Atkinsons evolved over the years?
Behind the scenes we have one of the most advanced eco-roasteries in the world positioned at the core of our operation in an invisible building between the shop and the hall café. The greatest change is the opening of our four cafés, the music room, the hall, the mackie mayor and the castle, where people can go and experience our wares and we can practice what we preach. Since the pandemic hit our website has taken over as the main source of income.
What are you excited about in the months and years ahead?
As a family firm (winner of the best food & drink establishment in the North West family business awards) I’m excited to see where the next generation takes things.
Our shift towards more online activity is inexorable. Spreading the word to a wider world about the wonder of Atkinsons.
We aren’t planning any further physical expansion just now as all our investment is in digital. The thing that excites me the most (apart from origin trips to visit our producers again!) is fulfilling our sdgs (sustainability development goals) having an urban farm on our living roof above the roastery and mushrooms growing in the cellar in waste coffee grounds!
We are on course for becoming the first b-corps certified company in Lancaster, cementing our place as both a pioneer and a survivor. We are heritage and innovation all under one roof.
When the lockdown is over and you can once again return to our beloved high streets, please remember to support and shop local.
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