How Ipswich coffee house beat Starbucks and Costa to last 20 years

JaCey's Coffee House in Ipswich is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

JaCey's Coffee House in Ipswich is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH - Credit: Archant

Faced with a global recession and the sheer might of Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Caffe Nero directly competing for their business in Ipswich, few coffee shops would have survived.

JaCey's Coffee House in Ipswich is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

JaCey's Coffee House in Ipswich is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH - Credit: Archant

But JaCey's Coffee House has defied the odds to not only keep going, but become one of Ipswich's favourite places to eat and drink - against all the odds.

Suffolk's waterfront town - and indeed the world - was a very different place when Colin and Jackie Williams took over their historic premises in St Stephen's Street in 1999.

Having previously run a restaurant in Yoxford, they had not even thought about running a coffee shop until they saw an advertisement in the East Anglian Daily Times for the 400-year-old former monastery.

Impressed with what they saw, they said they "loved the character of the property" and saw the opportunity to run a daytime cafe which would fit in with their lifestyle.

"At the time it was very cramped and crowded but we could see the potential of what we could do with it," said Mrs Williams.

They soon discovered running a coffee shop is tougher than running a restaurant, because the amount customers spend per head is smaller - meaning it is harder to make a profit.

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Yet they clearly made a success of it, as within seven years JaCey's became a go-to place serving 500 people a day.

Key to its success, Mrs Williams said, was its close relationship with customers.

"Customer service is very, very important," she said. "It's probably the most important thing.

"People come for the banter. My husband has always got banters with different customers. I often think: 'How does he get away with it?' But he does.

"Many of our customers are in the older age bracket. They come for the social aspect. You get people come in to meet each other in here. We've got a lot of customers like that."

Its popularity only bred further success, with Mrs Williams saying: "People are like sheep. They follow each other. If they see somewhere is packed, they want to know why."

But from 2005 onwards, Mrs Williams said: "Things started to get hard."

It wasn't anything JaCey's had done wrong but a double whammy of the growth of out-of-town retail parks and what she described as "the big boys coming in".

The arrival of Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Caffe Nero in the 2000s suddenly meant JaCey's had three major competitors - all with huge budgets as multinational chains.

Mrs Williams - who has taken a step back from JaCey's in recent years, handing over the reigns to younger family members - admitted the attraction of the coffee shop chains is that: "They can go to any town in the country and know what they're getting."

Her biggest bugbear is quality, as she believes independent coffee shops like hers make drinks and food to a higher standard.

"We make everything ourselves, rather than buy in," she said.

"Because we're family-run, we perhaps put that little bit more into it."

The growth of edge-of-town retail parks such as Martlesham, combined with major stores like BHS shutting, has also meant there has been less footfall to rely on.

The building of the new Buttermarket Shopping Centre also gave JaCey's more competition.

However JaCey's has survived nonetheless, with Mrs Williams saying: "We make profit from sheer hard work.

"We are dedicated to making customers happy. That is why we get such big numbers."

However she also believes a relentless focus on what JaCey's is good at, as well a willingness to keep changing and adapting.

Even something as simple as changing the table cloths can help to give a venue a fresher feel, she said.

JaCey's Coffee House will hold a birthday celebration for staff and customers at 4.30pm on Sunday, December 8.

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