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‘You won’t grind us down!’ Seaside traders ‘disappointed’ but up for David vs Goliath battle against Starbucks

How will the new Starbucks by the shore impact on Aberdeen's local coffee shops?
How will the new Starbucks by the shore impact on Aberdeen's local coffee shops?

Aberdeen’s beachfront cafe owners are “disappointed” at plans for a new Starbucks next door – but more than ready to take on the global giant.

The American chain last week unveiled plans for a 50-seater coffee shop with a drive-thru at the Queens Links Leisure Park.

If approved, it will be just a short stroll away from several local outlets dotted along the promenade.

We visited traders whose businesses could be jeopardised by the development shortly after the news broke.

Many are now preparing to show the same resilience that helped them survive the pandemic to brave this latest challenge.

The new Starbucks would form part of the Queens Links Leisure Park, next to several Aberdeen beach cafes

We will fight them on the beachfront…

Martin McAuley owns cafes across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, including The Pier.

We meet him busily typing away on a laptop at the back of the cafe.

The businessman says he is “disappointed”, and fears efforts to get customers to support local during the pandemic could be undone by the arrival of Seattle-based Starbucks.

Martin said: “We have seen a big increase in support for smaller businesses.

“That’s especially welcome as times are hard, with costs for food, gas and electric all rising in addition to Covid causing so many cancellations lately.

“So it is disappointing that a huge chain is looking into that space when there’s already almost an over-saturation of coffee places in this area.”

The Pier cafe on the beachfront expects to take a hit from the new Starbucks.

Martin added: “There are similar businesses here, but we all work with each other rather than against each other.

“And we are always very positive about anything new that brings people to the beach.

“But this will just be another food and drink provider, offering more of what we already have.”

Martin also anticipates the new Starbucks could cause problems with traffic around the area.

Our map shows how close Starbucks would be to Aberdeen beach cafes:

Aberdeen beach cafes rising to challenge

The Inversnecky cafe has been part of Aberdeen’s seafront since 1908, and has always been in current owner Martin Vicca’s family.

Martin says there is “no question” that a Starbucks will provide “more competition”.

But he says it will give his team “extra motivation to make sure we are on top of our game”.

Martin Vicca outside the Inversnecky Cafe, which has become known for its humorous boards.

The trade veteran said: “The trading environment is difficult right now.

“We are fortunate to be where we are, with how we can operate selling take-aways.

“If we were on Belmont Street, we would have been killed.”

Martin added: “Starbucks is a big chain, with a good product, and can do things with money which we can’t.

“We can’t stand here and say they shouldn’t be allowed to open…

“It will affect us, it will cost us money, but we have to allow for that and see how we can compete with it.

“This will push us to be better, and that’s no bad thing.”

Martin at the Aberdeen beach cafe back in 2003.

Much ado about muffins

Next door, Paul Dawson at the Pavilion cafe is hoping that their quality food offering should ensure customers stick with them.

“There’s only so much to go around, so it’s a bit of a concern,” he tells us.

“But we have been branching out into home delivery and we don’t think a chain like Starbucks can compete with us when it comes to homemade produce like our cakes.”

The Pavilion cafe serves up a mouth-watering array of ice creams.

As well as serving up lunchtime staples like bacon rolls, Paul has started making his own luxury ice cream – with flavours such as panettone and candy floss proving popular even on a cold December day.

He has been running the Pavilion for 14 years, and looks forward to many more – regardless of the Starbucks effect.

Trouble brewing, or storm in a teacup?

Cairn Coffee may sell the same caffeinated beverage, but it’s about as far away from Starbucks as any company can be.

Robbie Hill, gesturing at his co-owner Sam Colman, says: “It’s just me, him and a van.”

Sam Colman and Robbie Hill. Picture by Kenny Elrick

The pair launched the small independent venture in May, and have already established themselves with a band of followers.

Are they worried about Starbucks?

Robbie shrugs and says: “I don’t mind.”

The van is open towards the far end of the Beach Esplanade from Thursday to Sunday every week.

He adds: “Competition is competition, but there is a big community down here and we have lots of loyal regulars.

“So I’m not going to get too upset about it, it’s not the place I would choose to go.

“Down here there are other food vans and it feels like a nice little workplace, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

But is Starbucks needed to enhance dowdy Queens Links?

There have been “to let” signs hung outside the former Chiquito restaurant for some time.

A key argument put forward by planners in favour of the new Starbucks is that the Queens Links Leisure Park is desperately needing a bit of a boost.

Documents urging the local authority to rubber-stamp the proposal say the site is “tired and ageing”.

Although it still boasts attractions like Cineworld, Pizza Hut and TGI Fridays, it has lost the likes of Bella Italia in recent years.

And an abandoned Chiquito next to the cinema is something of an eyesore.

Bella Italia closed last summer

Planning papers add: “It is in need of an injection of new life, both to regenerate the park itself and to bring new activity to the wider beach area.”

The coffee shop would be built at the site’s south-west entrance, wiping out a number of parking spaces.

You can see the plans for yourself here.

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