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Cafe Blue entering Portmore, parent company beefs up management team

Published:Tuesday | November 7, 2017 | 12:00 AMSteven Jackson
In this November 2, 2017 photo, Jacqueline Sharp and husband, Jason, are seen at an event at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel in Kingston.

​Jamaica's largest chain of coffee shops, Cafe Blue, is expanding into Portmore where it will open a seventh store by year end.

It's the first major project to be executed by the company since Jacqueline Sharp joined family-owned Coffee Traders Limited as chief operating officer. She joined husband Jason Sharp and his brother Richard Sharp at the coffee company after exiting Scotia Group Jamaica as boss of the No 2 banking group at the end of October.

Cafe Blue is a subsidiary of Coffee Traders, which itself is described as the largest single exporter and roaster of Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee.

The chain is expanding and modernising as new competition enters the market in the form of the Starbucks franchise, set to formally open its first store this month at Gloucester Avenue in Montego Bay.

"We will open a cafe in Portmore Pines Plaza. We are planning to open that store before Christmas," said Managing Director of Coffee Traders, Jason Sharp.

And next week, the Sharps will shutter the bustling Cafe Blue shop at Sovereign Centre in Kingston for four days to modernise fixtures, improve in-store customer flow, and increase seating by nearly a third.

Coffee Traders declined to comment on the overall size of the business, which trades coffee locally and internationally, but it laid claim to 40 per cent of the export market. Coffee exports earned Jamaica US$27.6 million in 2016, according to the Economic and Social Survey Jamaica published by the Planning Institute of Jamaica.

Jacqueline's remit at Coffee Traders includes overseeing all the finances and operations, according to the managing director (MD).

Jason previously referred to himself only as a director of the company, but he now has a more formal management title as MD. Richard Sharp remains chief executive officer of Coffee Traders.

Additionally, the company just hired Justine Pyne as general manager for Cafe Blue, while Natisha Grey remains operations manager of the coffee chain.

The new store for Portmore will span 1,000 square feet and provide seating for 28. The cafe will offer coffees, food and pastry.

Sharp declined to comment on the investment in the new cafe, or even to disclose what it costs on average to set up a typical coffee shop.

"Every location is different. It depends on requirements and infrastructure and whether civil works are already in place," he said.

Sharp meantime is putting a positive spin on Starbucks' market entry, saying a rival of that calibre is likely to invest in promotions and could help unlock new clientele and patronage for stores like his own as more Jamaicans drink coffee socially.

Operators of the Starbucks Jamaica franchise have avoided revealing the number of stores planned. They have said however that four stores are planned for Montego Bay; and it is otherwise speculated that several stores are to open in Kingston.

"Starbucks will do a tremendous job in bringing awareness to coffee culture in Jamaica. So obviously they will do a lot of marketing and promotion to drive people to try products, and will make people more desirous of the cafe experience. That's how you build a cafe culture," the Coffee Traders boss said.

"I am always excited to see more cafes enter the island. As a core coffee company we are always interested in trying to develop our coffee culture."

Cafe Blue would have first-mover advantage in Portmore, which doesn't have a cafe - "At least not one I am aware of," said Sharp - but is a fast-growing community that continues to see established businesses setting up offices and retail stores.

"So a lot more businesses are opening up in Portmore, including business process outsourcing companies, banks, and so on. So there is a lot more activity on that side of the world and we want to be in the market place to capitalise on that," said Sharp.

Cafe Blue has operated since June 2005. Sharp attributes its longevity to its multi-generational appeal.

"We feel we have product for every coffee drinker who enjoys a lovely cup of coffee," he said.

The six Cafe Blue shops currently in operation are located at Irish Town in the hills of St Andrew; Sovereign Centre in Kingston; Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston; Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay; Rose Hall in Montego Bay; and Fairview shopping complex in Montego Bay.

Recently, the company expanded its operation in Irish Town in conjunction with a separately owned and operated business called Crystal Edge. The expansion increased Cafe Blue's seats from 10 to 30 at the location.

The remodelling at Sovereign will increase the seat count from 22 to 28.