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This 136-year-old London cafe doesn't need to keep up with the times


The Algerian Coffee Stores coffee shop opened in 1887 and has earned a reputation among caffeine connoisseurs around the world.

London (CNN) --

There's a certain nostalgia clinging to London's Soho: "It's not what it used to be" is an almost constant refrain.

Carnaby Street, famous for its hipster fashion in the so-called “Swinging Sixties”, is now packed with chain stores.

Many of the more unhealthy places in the area are long gone, and in their place are mostly restaurants that come and go.

The pace of change is rapid, and not all change is bad.

However, the bohemian spirit has not totally left Soho.

There are still a few stalwarts remaining strong, even as they weather aftershocks from the pandemic and high inflation in the UK.

The situation has tested the most powerful institutions in Soho.

After more than 90 years in business, beloved deli I Camisa narrowly escaped closure in January.

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Opposite it, on Old Compton Street, is an even older establishment.

Algerian Coffee Stores opened in 1887 under the ownership of an Algerian national now only remembered as Mr. Hassan.

Later it was sold to a Belgian, in the twenties, and to an Englishman, in the forties.

His daughter married an Italian, Paul Crocetta, whose daughters Marisa and Daniela run the store today.

Despite the many nationalities that serve the store, it has always retained its name.

1930s image of Algeria Coffee Stores, on Old Compton Street.

The store was founded by an Algerian national now only remembered as Mr. Hassan.

It was later bought by a Belgian, who sold it to an Englishman in the 1940s, whose descendants run the shop today.

Credit: James Stacey/CNN

"I've probably worked here my whole life, since I could walk," says Marisa Crocetta.

"My sister and I would come here on Saturdays to do very important jobs, or so we were led to believe. We've been here full time, between the two of us, for probably 30 years. This is like home."

The shop has shipped its coffee internationally for decades, though today orders are more likely to come from its website than by signed letter.

Credit: James Stacey/CNN

Behind the elegant window of the store, full of coffee and tea pots, Marisa, her sister Daniela and her father, Paul, sell more than 80 types of coffee beans and 120 teas from all over the world, even from places little known for their cultivation. such as Australia and Malawi.

Some are "sure hits," Crocetta says, "we'll never get rid of them."

Others come from food fairs and your network of contacts.

These are strictly products that you would not find in a large supermarket;

as Crocetta acknowledges, this small company could not compete.


The shop is a favorite with caffeine connoisseurs, who can buy 80 types of coffee and 120 types of tea.

Credit: James Stacey/CNN

The small dimensions of Algerian Coffee Stores hide a huge influence.

Although it can't claim to be the oldest coffeehouse in the capital (that title probably belongs to The Jamaica Wine House, the most recent name for a London venue that has been serving coffee since 1652), the shop has earned a reputation among caffeine connoisseurs, who regularly fill the cramped space in the venue.

"Often you can tell if someone is new to the store because they walk in, take a look, and sometimes say, 'Whoa,'" says Crocetta.

"They're a little gobsmacked."

"You can often tell if someone is new to the store, because they walk in, look around and sometimes say, 'Wow,'" says Marisa Crocetta.

Credit: James Stacey/CNN

Though only one or two shops may predate Algerian Coffee Stores in Soho (the Maison Bertaux patisserie, founded in 1871, is one of them), the co-owner is reluctant to have the shop labeled an institution.

"We don't necessarily see ourselves as an international institution or anything like that," he says.

"Honestly, my sister, father, and I see each other as a store."

However, they are aware that they are an outlier.

"Soho has completely changed in the last ten years," says Crocetta.

However, Algerian Coffee Stores has no plans to tamper with a winning formula and align itself with many of its newer neighbors.

Despite the many changes taking place in Soho, the store has no intention of keeping up with the times.

Credit: James Stacey/CNN

"Nobody wants us to give it a facelift...people want it to stay the way it is," Crocetta says.

"I think it's important to keep old London and some of its history alive, because if everything is new and modern, everything starts to look the same."

Despite its status as a Soho icon, it's not just Londoners who go to Old Compton Street for coffee.

"We ship coffee all over the world," says Crocetta.

"It's not a new thing," she adds, pointing to an old mail order billboard for everyone.

"Obviously it's something that's been going on probably since almost the beginning of the store."

Today, orders are more likely to come from his website than by signed letter, and in times of economic hardship, Crocetta says international orders help sustain business.

“We are impressed with the support we receive from our customers across the UK and around the world,” says Crocetta, pictured.

Credit: James Stacey/CNN

In the vast and varied online marketplace, why do customers continue to flock to a 136-year-old independent retailer?

"They might want to support the store. They know us, they've seen us, they like us. They like some of the coffees – we have some house blends you can't find anywhere else," Crocetta muses, before interrupting.

"I can only think that it's partly because of the roasting, partly because of us and partly because of the coffee we offer. It's lovely."

Credit: James Stacey/CNN

"We've been blown away by the support we've received from our customers across the UK and around the world. I can only think it's partly because of the roasting, partly because of us and partly because of the coffee we offer. It's lovely."

London coffee shops

Source: cnnespanol

All news articles on 2023-01-30

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