The team at Bentley's have had to be resilient to launch their successful coffee shops against the backdrop of two devastating lockdowns
Being from Middlesbrough instils something in you – fairness, resilience, innovation.
These were the qualities that Emily Bentley and the team behind Bentley’s coffee shops have needed in spades over the past two years.
Launching successfully in the Parkway Shopping Centre in July 2019, the chain has already branched out and runs outlets at Middlesbrough’s Sports Village, and further afield in Beverley and Scarborough.
That the Middlesbrough business has achieved this growth despite the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic derailing the hospitality industry just months after it got off the ground is quite staggering.
That they’ve put staff first – paying some who were ineligible for furlough out of their own pocket when indoor coffee shops were unable to open – is even more impressive.
But they wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.
“If you were trying to market it, you could probably call it ethical trading, but I would just say it’s being a good employer,” says Emily, who was born in Linthorpe and still lives in Middlesbrough, modestly.
“If you put out some good into the world, I believe that good comes back to you.
“It’s the way you’re brought up, the values we have. I do think Middlesbrough stands out in that way.”
Is that why Bentley’s started in Middlesbrough?
“I love Middlesbrough,” she continued. “It’s my home. I don’t care what people say about the town, it’s an amazing place.”
Describing herself as a “reluctant business owner”, Emily gives credit to everyone who has helped the business get off the ground – especially partner Martin Smith who had the original idea and who Emily calls the “driving force” behind the business, and Helen Smith, the co-owner, manager and public face at Bentley’s Coulby Newham.
“Even the name wasn’t my idea,” Emily smiles. “We’d picked another name and when we worked with a branding company ahead of opening, they suggested Bentley’s and we went from there.”
The company’s first branch in the Parkway is in an enviable location – right outside the Rainbow leisure centre, blessed with natural light flooding in through a glass atrium and positioned where customers pass from shops through to the car park.
But the first thing the team needed to do was to change perceptions of the space – with a full refurb and a completely different approach to its menu and décor.
The chain uses Rounton Coffee – another local business – and sticks to the same blend every time, so customers can expect a consistent brew on every visit.
“When we first looked at the space, we spoke to the centre manager who showed us the footfall figures so we knew it was a great location,” Emily continued.
“Things started off really well – but then Covid hit, and it has been difficult. We managed to install some outside seating but the restrictions were really hard to overcome. Hopefully we’re through the worst now and we can continue to grow.
“Our customers have been brilliant – we’ve had fantastic feedback, the team have had cards and chocolates and stuff like that.
“It’s about creating somewhere welcoming, building a bit of a community,” continued Emily, who pre-pandemic hosted an Age UK Befriending Café at the coffee shop.
Some staff members even went shopping for vulnerable customers who were isolating during the pandemic.
And as the country entered its first lockdown in early 2020, the Bentley’s team had just opened a coffee shop at Middlesbrough Sports Village.
But while things have moved fast for Emily and the team, she’s no stranger to the world of business.
In her full time day job, Emily is a Marketing and Business Development Manager for a Teesside technology company.
She’s also a director at the Tees Valley Business Club – which allows local firms the chance to build contacts and share experiences – and is a trustee at the Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation.
How does she find the time to fit it all in?
“It’s been a challenge, at times it’s been intense,” Emily smiles.
“But we’ve all got through it together.”