Taking a walk through the newly opened coffee house at the World Trade Centre (WTC) –-- Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf -- eyeing its bagels and cappuccinos and some other goodies with unpronounceable names, the first impression one gets is that Sri Lankans seem to be fast developing their posh tastes and the second is that WTC is back in action which means it’s no more a High Security Zone (HSZ). This is when the idea of peace really sets in.
WTC no more a HSZ
"Confidence is building up and offices are returning to the WTC. This was the main reason to open an outlet at this location,” Ashvin Mohinani, Director, Front Door (Private) Limited, owners of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, told the Business Times on the sidelines of opening their third coffee house at WTC recently. Sarath Sathiamoorty, Partner Coco Veranda which is a home grown coffee house concept that started a little over a year ago has similar sentiments. “Peaceful times are ahead. The purchasing power seems to be back and it’s a great time for such a business,” he noted.
A coffee house patron noted that many will step off their normal path to support a really great place, run by wonderful people, with great coffee, fine eats, cool music, and comfortable seats where no one will bother you if you want to sit and fiddle on your laptop – all made possible due to peace.
All because of peace
Ajit Dias, Chairman, Barista – an Italian franchise operating out of India agreed, saying that peace has changed the economic conditions of the country. “Such types of businesses are a direct result of peace. Peace brings change in business situations, which in turn brings about change in consumer habits," he said.
Mr. Mohinani explained that Sri Lankans were ready for an international chain which is what Coffee Bean is, which also brings about the fact that consumers now have more purchasing power, given that Coffee Bean’s prices are somewhat higher than its counterparts.
He noted that all the coffee making equipment at Coffee Bean is state-of-the-art and imported from Italy, adding that this franchise was founded in Southern California in 1963 by Herbert Hyman as a family-owned business – making it the oldest privately owned specialty coffee and tea retailer in the US with the brand now in more than 750 cafes in 22 countries. “It’s important to give consumers a choice (now that peace has set in),” he said, noting that Coffee Bean's Horton Place outlet has seen a 12% growth last year while the airport outlet has seen a smaller growth.
He added that at WTC all types of customers patronize and the WTC outlet will cater to the rising demands of the business community in Colombo’s central commercial district at a time when Sri Lanka is making rapid economic progress and increasingly attracting the global business. Mr. Dias also noted that Barista also has seen a greater growth in business in the last few months.
Barista, Delifrance, Commons and Hotshots are some of the older coffee houses, while Coco Veranda, Coffee Stop and Coffee Bean are the later additions and some of these chains are gearing to start more branches in the Colombo suburbs.
"Big tour coaches come in to Horton place (after the war), because of freedom of movement," Mr. Mohinani added. “We anticipate the new Coffee Bean to flourish as a social meeting location for friends, colleagues and business associates alike,” Godfrey Aloysius, co- Director of the company noted.
Fat taxes? Sour taste!
Some coffee shop owners lament saying the coffee ranges which they import from Brazil, Ethiopic and Columbia, etc. are taxed 150% per kilogramme. "We've been lobbying for a duty reduction, but they (the Customs Department) insist that it's an imported luxury item," a coffee business owner noted.