Subsidiary Companies


Importers Retail Salerooms was a small subsidiary company specialising in the sale of tea and coffee selling from a small number of retail shops mainly in the home counties but spreading out to Cheltenham and Plymouth. The firm was founded by Ernest Pinkerton in 1934. He was an Englishman who had spent many years in the United States where he had established a similar tea and coffee business before returning to England and starting Importers Retail Salerooms. They specialised in supplying exotic blends such as Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee and Peppermint Tea to the individual customer. The first store opened in Bromley, Kent, and the business grew rapidly with another branch in Maidstone. In the pre-war years tea was the largest part of the business but after the Second World War coffee gradually became the larger item sold. The teas were individually wrapped and packaged in each branch and the coffee was roasted daily. Only the best teas and coffees were sold and staff regularly gave advice to customers if required. The tea was blended centrally at Woolwich where Earl Grey and Windsor were the favourite blends. However, more exotic blends were produced including Japanese Cherry (a blend of Japanese green tea with selected bush sprouts flavoured with cherries) or Gunpowder Tea (made of tightly curled leaves of the best China grade). The blends were delivered each week to the shops where the staff packaged it as and when needed. Every day roasting machines in each store were at work roasting twenty different blends that the company offered. The roasters were positioned in the front windows of each store and the smell of roasted coffee wafted out through the extractors enticing passers-by. To ensure quality only small amounts of beans were roasted at a time. After roasting the beans were stored in special containers which emptied from the bottom to ensure an even rotation of the coffee. Grinding was another important procedure. No coffee was ground until the customer asked for it and they were encouraged only to order small amounts for their immediate needs. Furthermore it need to be ground to suit the machine for which it was going to be used. Filter and Cona machines demanded a different degree of grinding.

In addition to tea and coffee all the shops sold a variety of coffee and tea making equipment including machines for making espresso and cappuccino coffee, filters, tea caddies, grinders, strainers and measures. The stores also sold a small range of biscuits and a range of preserves made by the Lyons subsidiary Margetts Foods Ltd. Seven of the thirty shops had coffee lounges attached serving morning coffee and afternoon teas. They also provided light breakfast and lunch menus specialising on omelettes, salads toasted buns, Welsh rarebit, gateaux and cream teas. All lounges were waitress service and very British. Some customers were so loyal that when they moved abroad they arranged for their teas and coffee supplies to be sent to them. Importers Retail Salerooms had customers in America, Australia, Japan, France, Germany, Holland and Italy.

Importers Retail Showrooms was bought by Tetley Tea Inc in the 1960s and came into the Group when Lyons acquired the Tetley Tea business in 1972. They operated independently.

 © Peter Bird 2002