Founder of Costa regrets selling the chain he founded

Imagine establishing a chain of quality coffee shops, selling to Big Business, only to see the chain you founded bastardised, become byword for rubbish coffee.

That is what has happened to Bruno Costa, who with his brother Sergio Costa, co-founded in the 1970s the coffee chain that bears their family name. Costa was acquired by Whitbread in 1995.

Costa in Protaras

Costa in Protaras in Cyprus

His comments come as Costa is set to open its sixth outlet in Purley, leading Mr Costa to liken coffee chains to Tesco, saying they have “taken over”.

In a candid interview with the Advertiser, the Italian-born entrepreneur also said he no longer drinks the blend he co-invented, and regrets selling the business.

Mr Costa, 70, said: “As far as the coffee business is concerned, like here in Purley, I know it is monopolised by these three or four companies that don’t give much chance to the smaller ones.

“It reflects what the supermarkets have done to smaller shops in the high streets.

“I like Purley very much. It is still a small community which is nice to go down to the centre, but the likes of Tesco have taken over.

“We were lucky at the time [we started Costa] that a Starbucks wasn’t nearby.”

The first Costa shop was opened by Bruno and Sergio in London Victoria 34 years ago. Today, the chain has more than 1,390 outlets across the UK today and Bruno admits some misgivings about selling the firm.

“Yes, I have regrets,” he said.

“Regrets that we should have brought more of the family into the business and then get further maybe, not as much as Whitbread has now done. But there was room and space to improve by a big percentage on what we had done.

“It would have been nice for myself and my brother to carry on and bring the right people in.

“It would be very nice to be the head of that company again.”

The brothers, from northern Italy, founded the business in 1970 after the family moved to England 10 years earlier because they could not find work in their home country.

What started as a single roasting machine producing a blend that they sold to bars, hotels and restaurants, culminated in the opening of their first shop in Vauxhall Bridge Road.

Mr Costa sold up shortly after the London launch, selling his half to his brother, who controlled the business for another ten years before Whitbread bought it out.

Asked why he sold up, Mr Costa explained: “We were selling coffee to a country that was drinking tea; the taste for coffee was only in the rest of Europe at this point.”

Mr Costa later became a shareholder in an export company supplying supermarkets with fine Italian foods.

He remains the director of three companies; La Porcellana Limited, Tableware International Limited and Inista Properties Limited, according to Companies House records.

Although he is “impressed with the quality” of blend the UK’s largest chain has retained, he says he now prefers Nespresso.

Asked for the secret to a proper cup of coffee, Mr Costa revealed: “First of all, the most important thing is the blend, to achieve the right taste.

“Secondly, the coffee machines are very important, because with the technique you have to train the staff to make it the proper way, the right amount of everything.

“The milk and water also have to be at the correct temperature.”

Top Story in The Grande Latte (Wednesday 17 October 2012)

Top Story in The Coffee House (Wednesday 17 October 2012).

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2 Responses to “Founder of Costa regrets selling the chain he founded”

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