Heart of The Chain

Outwardly the Pret A Manger at Turnmill Street in Farringdon looks much like any other  cafe that is part of a chain:  distinctive branding above the door, set in a bustling part of the city where there is a lot of people passing by, a standard selection of healthy food prepared and packaged the same day, and options for the busy office worker to have in or take away.

Typically my experience with cafes in such chains is to get in, get my selection, and get out as fast as I can – and so I don’t really expect a lot of personability from the staff in getting served.

An independent cafe, on the other hand, is another experience again.  I expect to go in and feel free to stop and take my time, perhaps browsing a newspaper or phone messages over a coffee and watching the world go by past the cafe’s window (assuming I am lucky enough to get a window seat).

So it was with some surprise to find a happy mix of these two different “cafe worlds” at this little Pret A Manger, when finding myself having to come to work in Farringdon for a few months on contract.

It all started with the diminutive Suzy – shown in the picture below – who struck me with her seemingly boundless energy and friendliness with how she both organised my order as well as how she adeptly managed to find time to ask me how my day had gone, while my coffee was being prepared.  This surprised me somewhat, as I am typically not used to getting any interest asked about my wellbeing from people who serve me behind the counter at a chain.

2015-07-01 15.57.39

Admittedly this first time in encountering Suzy was following an interview for another contract in the area, and I was in there at a time when it wasn’t busy – but it did make me feel good about the area, and want to come back to work here if even the people in the chain businesses were going to be this friendly.  Certainly there is something about Suzy and her infectious smile and sing-song Brazilian accent which made my day that day, even though I didn’t get that particular job.

So I guess it was Fate that I should find myself back in the area 6 months later, and after a stint down in Portsmouth where there are so few cafes to go to – as it seems that European-style cafe culture has yet to arrive there – that I found the local truckstop cafe to be the best thing going (but that’s another story).

This time I got the job, and so resolved to return to “my Pret” (as I felt it to be) for my morning tea snack as well as lunch.

Certainly it was nice to see Suzy was still there, as transience of staff in chains is yet another thing which can make it hard to “attach” to them – and, where again, the local independent cafe tends to win through, if one is wanting to “stop a while”.  And it was also nice to eventually realise that it was not just Suzy, but all of the staff there who are not afraid to be who they are – while also providing great, personable service.

Indeed, after going there for 4 months I think I have come to know nearly all of them – from Maria, their manager who originally comes from Poland and is happy to indulge my interest to learn Polish (along with every other European language I can), to the rest of the cosmopolitan staff there such as Giulia, Alessia and Alessandro from Italy, Ana and Maria from Spain, Karelys from Venezuela, David from Colombia,  Elisavet from Cyprus, Pim from Thailand, Agnese from Latvia, and Bea from Poland.

I managed one day to have a brief chat with the very busy Maria, their manager.  She told me that the staff are “trained to do their best, for the person, but also to never wait – just go and do”.  She did add that:  “it is down to the individual [ though ] – and to treat [ customers ] as they want to be treated”.

In a separate chat I managed to have with Suzy one day, at the end of her shift, she also referred to the training – and how the team are trained to “make people feel special” and also “treat it as if it’s their own cafe”.

It has been really refreshing to discover a cafe which is like this, yet is part of a chain.  After becoming “a regular” here after 4 months,  it’s not like going to a cafe in a chain for me – it’s more like catching up with my family, over a coffee or a bite of lunch.  If you have to go to Farringdon for any reason, then please stop in to say “Hi”, and mention you heard about them all from reading this post – as I think they’d really appreciate it, and I certainly feel like they all deserve it.

Alessia and Alessandro, going the extra mile, in helping a lost visitor with directions to places in the area

Alessia and Alessandro, going the extra mile, in helping a lost visitor with directions to places in the area

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About Matt's Tale

A New Age travel writer, seeing the old in the new and the bold in the blue - but mainly seeking the freedom to be, as much as to do. His tales come from meeting modern day travellers following their likes of King Arthur to Geoffrey Chaucer, leading him on to places considered "Camelot" and different ways to see Canterbury and cafes a lot. Email: mattstale@yahoo.co.uk Twitter: @mattstale
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