Esquires was founded in 1993, with myself and a close friend opening our first store in a suburb of Vancouver called North Delta. North Delta is a charming community, nestled within a forested area filled with spectacular cedar trees, some of which stretching hundreds of feet in the air. The community is brimming with working professionals, students, and families of all ages.
I’m not embarrassed to say we didn’t have much experience in those days. We were twenty-four year-olds finding our way in life, so starting a business was daunting…but we loved coffee and people, and believed the community truly needed a place for folks to congregate outside of the local pub. Our very first store was in a small “strip mall”, as we refer to them in Canada. The small but charming centre, comprised of about 30 or so retail businesses, had come under tough times and was in receivership. It sounds a bit strange to say this, but the downturn in the economy and resulting impact on that little centre presented a lucky break for us. Had the mall not been in receivership, two young lads with not much experience would likely never been granted a lease. So we had our ‘lucky break’ and we set out to create something really cool and meaningful.
Our first shop was ‘indie’ de facto, meaning we didn’t have an abundance of funds so we had to make up for it with passion, creativity and ingenuity. We worked tirelessly to earn a position and acceptance within the community. We were a one-off shop, not a big brand, so we had to work harder than everyone else to build a name for ourselves. We had to listen to our customers and evolve to serve them, and we had to tailor our design and offer to the local community. Gradually, we earned the trust and respect of the people living in North Delta. We have around 125 stores now, but I’m very proud to say Esquires Coffee evolved from that one small store in a small suburb of Vancouver; by showing people that we valued their business more than the big brands.
By the late 90’s, we had established Esquires as a leading specialty retail coffee brand in western Canada. We were at a nice size and were content. There was all sorts of presssure, as happens in business, to grow and expand, but we had worked really hard building the chain and didn’t feel a great deal of urgency to expand for expansion’s sake. This all changed in early 1999, when a lovely couple from the U.K. stumbled across one of our stores on Vancouver Island. It was as if fate had delivered them to us, for they stopped in, not for coffee, but to use our facilities before catching a ferry to the mainland. As they put it, “We fell immediately and madly in love with their energy, environment, and friendliness. We knew Brits would just adore this brand!”. It turned out that this couple were franchise experts living in the U.K. And the rest, as they say, is history.
From 1999 – 2001, I was fortunate to be able to travel and work in the U.K., opening Esquires franchise outlets throughout the country. During that time, I developed deep love and admiration for the U.K. As a small town Canadian kid, I was mesmerised and fascinated by the architecture and culture. There is also an acceptance and tolerance here that is indescribably positive. I must hereby confess my love for enjoying a few ‘pints’ in a traditional pub, having a ‘natter’ with the locals. A few years after my tour in the U.K., it was time to settle down and start a family, so I sold my interest in Esquires and made this my focus. But my heart was always with Esquires, and I managed to find a way to stay connected with the people we had sold the business to.
In 2014, a series of serendipitous events presented me with an opportunity to re-join the organisation. I was looking for a new challenge in my life and, as timing would deliver, the new global license holders were looking for someone to take the helm over here in the U.K. They enlisted me to rejoin the organisation to reinstall the ideologies, culture and core values that helped Esquires become a leading coffee brand in Canada, and the #1 coffee brand in New Zealand. I was offered a chance to live in London, with a promise to be able to travel all over the U.K., just as we had done previously in 2000. The U.K. always felt like ‘home’ to me, and now it is.
People ask me what it’s like being [just] an employee of the company I founded. The answer is that I’ve never viewed Esquires as belonging to me, so it’s not a big deal. Esquires was founded on the principle that we belong to the communities in which we serve. If anyone owns Esquires, it’s them. Our customers decide our success and, if you listen, they will shape you and keep you relevant. My job is really just to keep reminding the people on our team to “keep it real”.
Thanks for reading my story.