Big Bristol breakfast Still going strong ten years on
Coffee shops are booming. That was the headline last month when a new report revealed that the coffee shop market grew 7.5 per cent in 2012 and is now worth £6bn a year.
As coffee shops grow in popularity, pubs continue to struggle, with around 20 closing every week. It's an unfortunate if inevitable paradox that goes some way in explaining the huge and ongoing success of Bristol- based café/bar group Loungers Ltd.
Founded in 2002, the group has grown from humble beginnings to 25 sites nationwide with a yearly turnover in excess of £20m and employing a staff of 500. Not bad for a company that started with one ten-table café funded by a total investment of £30,000 and a £20,000 bank loan. To celebrate the company's recent tenth anniversary, I returned to the place where it all started – The Lounge in Bedminster – which is three times the size it was when it first opened in 2002, having knocked through to two shops over the past decade.
This is the site that set the template for the 25 nationwide branches that have since followed. Although each site is different, they tend to follow the same look with polished dark wooden boards, scrubbed pine tables, leather armchairs and black and white photos.
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The success of the Lounges partly boils down to the simple premise of offering an informal experience for everybody who walks through the door.
The rolling menu takes in breakfast, brunch, lunch, cakes in the afternoon and dinner in the evening. Child-friendly to the point of being the default place to go for anybody with toddlers and tractor-sized buggies, the Little Loungers menu is especially popular, with all dishes costing £4.50.
In the evening, you can order tapas, burgers, curries or more ambitious main courses such as slow braised Windsor Farm belly pork with sweet potato mash, Savoy cabbage and bacon and cider gravy. Prices rarely go over the £10 mark.
I was there for breakfast – widely regarded as one of the best in the city. On weekdays between 9am and noon, the full English costs just £5.95 including a cup of tea or filter coffee, which is excellent value.
Each component of the breakfast was piping hot and hard to fault – perfectly runny fried egg, crisp-edged black pudding, two thick slices of bacon, good fried button mushrooms, a juicy grilled tomato. Even the two "trailer trash" hash browns and the intriguing sausage pattie were spot on.