Thanks to his past, Umair Shafiq was primed to launch a restaurant business but his caffeine addiction convinced him to become an Esquires Coffee franchisee instead
Umair Shafiq, franchisee of Esquires Coffee Maidstone, the coffee franchise, is decking his shop’s halls with holly and even looking at getting drinks to local shelters for Christmas. But Maidstone would be less jolly this year if Shafiq hadn’t stumbled upon the Esquires opportunity when he was looking for a way to utilise his hospitality experience.
Indeed, being born into a family of restaurateurs made hospitality something of a destiny for Shafiq. “My father had his first restaurant in 1972 so we’ve actually just grown up in and amongst hospitality and catering industries,” he explains. “It’s like second nature to [me].” Whether it was just to hang out or gets hands on, once the bell rang after school Shafiq often made a break for his dad’s business. “If you grew up in a restaurant like you would do back in the 80s and 90s it becomes like a superpower that gets engraved into you,” he says.
Shafiq couldn’t ignore his special abilities and set out to launch his own hospitality business. But he didn’t want to just follow in daddy’s footsteps and after countless hours of head scratching in coffee shops, he got an idea. “Obviously, I became addicted to coffee at one point while looking to form my next step,” Shafiq recalls. “I was always sat in coffee shops thinking for a long time and then realised, you know what, coffee is something I really want to do.” He found many parallels between coffee and restaurant businesses he could apply his experience to. “Coffee shops [are] just another version of restaurants,” he says. “Although, with coffee shops it’s more all day every day.” But getting through the daily grind of running a coffee shop was a commitment he was prepared for.
Interestingly, he didn’t start off with Esquires Coffee but actually began his journey by becoming a franchisee for BB’s Coffee & Muffins, the café franchise. Needless to say, he fell in love with franchising as a concept. “I understand the value of going to a brand with multiple stores across the nation,” Shafiq says.
Still, eventually he and the chain decided to go their separate ways. But given he’d found his calling, deciding to stick to franchising was a no-brainer when considering his next step. And Shafiq had a certain type of coffee shop in mind. “I was thinking of launching one of the bricklaying, independent types of [cafes] where I used to always go,” he says. That criteria scratched many franchises off the list.
But eventually, Shafiq stumbled upon Esquires Coffee Buckingham for a caffeine hit while it was going through a rebrand and was won over by the Canadian coffee chain. “As soon as I saw that I said ‘Right, this is what I want,’” he says. Shafiq got on the line with Peter Woody, a salesperson in the network, for a rundown of the franchise. “He’s a smooth-talking son of a gun,” Shafiq laughs. Indeed, combined with talk of Esquires Coffee’s organic and fair trade products, Woody’s Canuck silver tongue swayed Shafiq. “He’s got a very Canadian personality, he’s like Canadian times ten,” Shafiq continues. “He absolutely sold it to me.” Needless to say, Shafiq inked the dotted line.
Given Shafiq wasn’t working, he had time to go above and beyond when Esquires Coffee’s franchisee training began.“I think my training was probably one of the longest out of the franchisees because I had so much spare time,” he recalls. Not letting a second go to waste, Shafiq took up various shifts across several Esquires Coffee stores to absorb everything he could about the franchise’s operations. “I was always getting shifts in different stores, volunteering to do shifts [and] seeing how every store operated,” he explains. Without bragging, he found it plain sailing and soon held the keys to Esquires Coffee Maidstone.
Shafiq’s focus also came into play when prepping his staff for launch. “I think we did about 14 or 17 of days training which is unprecedented in Esquires Coffee’s [history],” he says. The doors were open to only employees during this time as part of a slow and steady launch strategy. So when customers finally set foot in the outlet, they met a workforce atop its game. “That allowed us to give every single customer that walked in a lot more time and attention,” Shafiq recalls.“We made sure the first 10, 15 and 20 customers that came in went [back] really happy.” Setting a strong image from day one is vital and it’s clear the extended training worked like a charm.
While Shafiq hit the ground running, he admits it would have been a slower pace without Esquires Coffee behind him. “[The franchisor] oversaw absolutely everything to the stage where it was ready to open,” he says. This included operations director Sonya Peacock and operations manager Colin Mason-Byers coming down to help kickstart the franchise. “A lot of work went into my store in particular,” Shafiq says.
That continuous support has seen Shafiq blossom. In fact, he’s even had competitors admiring from afar. “I think we had the Starbucks regional manager for Kent in our store,” Shafiq recollects. Spying him and his assistant peering around the shop, Shafiq did the polite thing. “We thought let’s go say hello and when we realised who they were they were just like ‘Look, you know what, we can’t compete with you guys,’ they openly said it to us,” he laughs.
Although franchising has unique challenges it’s nothing Shafiq’s network can’t help with. “Because we’ve gone down the route of having a franchise, there [are] a lot more operations than before [but] a lot more operational help,” Shafiq explains. He wouldn’t want it any other way. “If I had an independent maybe it wouldn’t be so easy,” he opines.
Indeed, Shafiq believes expansion goes hand-in-hand with the coffee industry so franchising is his best friend when looking to the future. “For me, it’s more about having multiple amounts of stores,” he says. “With the coffee industry the more stores you have the better.” And Kent is ripe for the taking. “It’s a phenomenal area for coffee, there’s a lot of money within Kent,” he concludes. “So as long as I can find something [there], I’m happy.”