Laura Harper-Hinton: “We don’t see Caravan as a London brand”

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Laura Harper-Hinton on taking restaurant and coffee brand Caravan to Manchester

Related tags Caravan Laura Harper-Hinton Miles Kirby Chris Ammermann Coffee Manchester

The Antipodean trio behind successful restaurant and coffee brand Caravan are hitting the road later this year having lined up their debut regional site.

Why is now the time to take Caravan outside London?

We have always wanted to move beyond the capital. It would have happened sooner were it not for the pandemic. Like most hospitality businesses, Covid slowed us down. But it also allowed us to take a step back and see what could be improved in terms of our culture and efficiencies. We don't see Caravan as a London brand, not least because myself and my fellow founders (Chris Ammermann and chef Miles Kirby) are originally from New Zealand. We would also like to take the brand international at some point. Who knows, we might slowly work our way back to New Zealand. 

Why Manchester?

We have been looking at the city since before the pandemic. We only want to open in places we want to hang out ourselves. Manchester certainly fits that brief. With its strong sports, music and incredible hospitality scene it has a similar vibe to Wellington, where we all grew up. It feels like great timing to open in the city, there has been a lot of investment recently. Another big appeal was the vibrancy of Manchester’s coffee scene. In the UK, it’s second only to London but that’s more about the volume of operators than anything else. The scene is already very evolved and the quality is exceptional. We’re excited to become part of it.

Tell us about the site

The approach mirrors that of King’s Cross (Caravan’s second and most successful site to date)​ in that we haven’t gone for a tried and tested location. We’ve taken a large site (10,000sq ft) within the St John development. Our neighbours include Fenix, Soho House and Factory International. We will have around 200 covers in total spread across two dining rooms, a bar, a private dining room featuring a turntable and private sound system, two outside terraces, a takeout coffee brew bar and a coffee roastery. We have packed a bunch of cool stuff into the site. Manchester will be an all singing, all dancing Caravan experience. The look will be inspired by the trail hiking huts back home in New Zealand. It will be our largest site when it opens. Fit out begins next month, we’re hoping to launch in late July or early August.

How are things with the business more generally?

Sales are in a good, robust place and we’re converting well too. But it is tough out there. Labour and teams are a big challenge but we’ve spent the past 18 months or so focusing in on that and we’re now reaping the benefits. The culture has always been a huge part of what we do we do at Caravan.

Does straddling the restaurant and coffee sectors make the business better placed to succeed?

Yes. The restaurant and coffee operations work well together. In general selling coffee is more profitable than running a restaurant. We also roast our own which gives us vertical integration. But coffee retail is an extremely competitive space. A lot of direct-to-consumer coffee businesses have to plough a lot of cash into digital marketing which eats into their profitability. We did try that but we ended up pivoting away. Our model is now truly omnichannel in that we have our own places, direct-to-consumer, wholesale to cafes, restaurants, hotels and co-working spaces and also supermarkets (Caravan launched in Waitrose last year).

How is your recently opened site in Covent Garden doing?

Really well. We launched in late October just in time for the Christmas rush. It is currently our largest site. We have always wanted a Caravan in Covent Garden. We’re on Drury Lane, which is a little off pitch but quite us. We are getting used to the area’s peaks and troughs. We get a lot of pre and post theatre. The location is also well-positioned to pick up trade from Holborn.

What's next for Caravan?

We're already looking at more regional sites, and we will start looking at international sites soon too. But Caravan won’t ever be a brand that opens 10 sites a year. Our expansion is mindful. We are careful about our locations. We also want to give ourselves enough time to be creative with all the projects we undertake.

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