The Reason Why The White Feather Coffee Co. is Full of Heart


In this blog I share a little bit about the story behind The White Feather Coffee Co. and why I started the brand. As with most independent businesses started by individuals, there is often so much emotion, circumstance, heart and aspiration tied up into the narrative of a business. And I am very happy to be sharing some of my story leading the way with White Feather up until this point today, so here goes…

Why a Coffee Shop?

The story of how I started The White Feather Coffee Co. comes from a very deep place in my heart through the experience my business was born out of. 

I married my childhood sweetheart Luke in 2013. We were together for 14 years, but sadly, he passed away in October 2015. He had a long battle over a seven year period with leukaemia. He relapsed three times, had a stem cell transplant on the second occasion, and the third time, we were told there was no more they could do for him, and his condition was deemed terminal. 

I guess I was fortunate as during that time, I got to have some really deep conversations with Luke. I had always visualised having a family with him, and up to this point I felt like life was pretty much mapped out, even despite the uncertainty that we’d been through previously. 

I got to the point with my husband, I was like, ‘seriously, what do I do? Where do I go from here? Nothing makes sense any more, and I don’t know where to go’. 

And he turned to me, and he said… ‘I think you should start a coffee shop’. 

This was always our thing. We lived in the centre of Taunton in Somerset and we’d go out on a Sunday in search of really good for coffee and cake. I’d always walk into these coffee shops and day dream about the type of coffee shop I would own, and say, ‘I’d love to have this, but I would do this differently… and I would do it like that, and I want to do this… etc etc’.

So that was his advice, and I took it. Luke passed away in October 2015. I went back to work at the College in the following January, and pretty much straight away I handed my notice in and by the summer I had left. I started renovation work on a small van which I converted into a coffee van, and this is where The White Feather Coffee Co. was born and my journey as a female founder began. 

Starting out as The White Feather Coffee Co.

When I look back, so many different people shaped my journey in those early days as a female founder. 

I remember being put in touch with Andrew who worked at Clifton Coffee, and talking to him about the industry was so insightful. He really tried to push me into having a coffee shop. But at that time I didn’t want any ties, I just wanted to be me, and be free, and not have any pressures. I think my coffee van was actually therapy for me through my grief, and gave me something positive and productive to focus on.

In the December of 2015 I visited a friend in Australia, and that was really where my passion for coffee grew legs. My friend introduced me to Rodney, who owns Barefoot Coffee Roasters in Byron Bay. He both roasts coffee as well as runs his own coffee shop. Rodney’s passion for coffee oozed from him and was contagious! He taught me how he roasted his coffee beans and the ‘how to’ of running his coffee business. I was hooked! 

On the plane journey, I read the Independent Coffee Guide To The South West, UK from cover to cover, and remember thinking at the time… like literally… who does this?! It was a long flight!! But I really found it so interesting and inspiring to hear about other local independent coffee shops in my region. 

In the guide, an independent coffee roasters was featured, Brazier Coffee Roasters, and it turned out they were just down the road from me. So when I got back I called them and set up a meeting. And that was the start of our 7 years and counting working relationship. From fitting my first coffee equipment in my van, to now supplying our beans and other hot drinks to all my coffee shops around Somerset and beyond. We’ve been on a real journey of growth together, and Tom and the team at Braizers have been a great support throughout. 

So yeah, I think a lot of all of those people have been really key in getting me to where I am. And that’s something I’ve always found really important is having the right people to lean on. 

Inside the Bath Spa Train Station White Feather Coffee Co. Shop.

Opening My First Coffee Shop 

In August 2016, I was still operating out of my coffee van, and the guys from South West Larder got in touch with me. They basically said, ‘Look, we’ve got this cafe, it’s linked to the Hinkley Point C Project in West Somerset, UK. We can’t run it ourselves. We haven’t got the time we’ve got so much going on. Do you fancy coming out and giving it a go?’

I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll test drive a coffee shop, that’s fine’, and I thought you know what, who wouldn’t want to test drive a coffee shop and dip their toe in the water! So I did. I took on the space at the Innovation Centre in Bridgwater as my own space, and became a limited company in January 2017 to win the contract. And we’ve been there ever since. 

Our Town Centre Coffee Shop & COVID

Opening our first town centre coffee shop in Bridgwater was great! It was a really different experience to the Innovation Centre, and enabled me to learn lots about this different market and customer base. But then COVID hit, and I decided to pull out of the town centre model because our break clause was up in our lease. It was absolutely the right thing to do. 

And yeah COVID happened, that was really, really hard. I remember standing in my coffee shop in the centre of town with all my staff and it had just been announced that we were going into lockdown and it literally felt like everything was coming crashing down around me. 

But very quickly, I realised that it was probably the best thing that could have happened to my business. It was a chance to take a step back, review what we were doing, look at what worked well, what didn’t work so well and then start to pave the way forward.

The Management Contract at the Hinkley Point C Project

This business move got us to a far more stable place, whilst keeping everything that was important to The White Feather Coffee Co. at the heart of what we were doing. We were really fortunate to renegotiate the contract we had at the Innovation Centre, into a management contract, directly linked to the Hinkley Point C Project. This was an absolute lifeline for us because it meant that since January 2021, despite lots of other lockdowns, we were able to operate there. I didn’t have to make any redundancies through my choice, and we were able to offer everyone a job that wanted to continue working through COVID. That was so important to me, that I didn’t leave anyone in the lurch at such a difficult time.

We’ve operated from the Innovation Centre since January 2021. We’ve got a really good relationship with our tier one contractor, the South West Larder, which is really nice, because they got me in there in the first place. 

Serving Our Coffee from Somerset Train Stations

Following COVID, I took some time to stand back and reassess the direction of The White Feather Coffee Co. An opportunity arose to tender for Bath Spa Train Station, and I was so excited to win this in July 2021. Off the back of that, we also opened a little kiosk in our hometown at Bridgwater Train Station in November 2022, and it has been brilliant, they’ve been absolutely flying! 

It’s been so rewarding to take The White Feather Coffee Co. back to the masses, again, in a situation where we’ve got a really good footfall passing our doors on a regular daily basis. And it’s certainly given me the confidence to take the next step and push White Feather back out there into the public domain.

The White Feather Coffee Co. at Bath Spa Train Station

My Biggest Business Challenge on My Journey so Far…

The biggest challenge for me when establishing The White Feather Coffee Co, wasn’t my first coffee shop, because this was located in a safe environment in an office block with regular footfall. But going into the town centre and then having to generate that footfall, this dealt us a new challenge. 

It was that time period between opening the doors when we started out in the town centre, to the point when things really took off and we became well established in the community’s memory as the place they like to go. That time was really tricky. To keep plugging away at the marketing and networking to get the word out there to drive footfall through our doors, rather than going to the massive coffee chains on autopilot. That’s where our messaging is really key. ‘Why you should choose White Feather over the major chains that are just down the road’. And yeah, that’s sometimes hard to get that across initially, but we got there and I think, you’ve just got to have that kind of grit and determination to just keep going and hunker down through those tricky few months, but we get there in the end.

My Biggest Business Win Since Starting The White Feather Coffee Co. 

When I reflect back, it’s actually quite hard to choose because there’s been a few things that have been quite significant. But I guess the biggest win today has to be winning the tender for Bath Spa Train Station. And I think that’s because we did it, and we did it in style!! 

The feedback from Great Western Railway was that our tender was the best tender they’d ever seen. So that in itself is like… Wow, that’s good! And when I set out with this business, I wanted to be going right up against the big boys. I wanted to be up there against the Starbucks, Costa, and the Cafe Nero’s of this world. And at Bath Spa, we are literally head to head with Starbucks on the same platform! So it’s really nice to be in that situation. Sorry Starbucks! 

We are now able to do what we set out to do, with taking customers away from the major chains.  Giving them the first class ‘White Feather Experience’ and educating them on how they can support local, sustainable, independent coffee chains and get an amazing coffee experience and tasty food in the process! One by one each customer we serve, we hope to change their mindset and see them vote with their feet and choose ‘independent’ over ‘major chain’ as part of their new normal. 

So yeah, I think that winning the Bath Spa Train Station tender for a lot of reasons was a massive achievement for us as a business and really put us on the map, being a an independent coffee shop and being able to compete with the big boys.

Thank you so much for reading more about my journey building The White Feather Coffee Co. Your support is massively appreciated! If you are interested in learning more about what we stand for as a business please visit our Values Page here. 

Much Love Holly x