Coffee maker expands business

Ian, Sue and Casper Steel in the Priory Hall.
Ian, Sue and Casper Steel in the Priory Hall.

A city coffee maker has brought a derelict 1930s Art Deco building back to life.

Atkinson’s has expanded into the Priory Hall next door, creating a new cafe area which also aims to engage customers in the journey of coffee beans from their source to eventual roasting in Lancaster.

The 300 square metre hall was previously used as a community centre by Lancaster Priory.

Shortly after it opened in 1939 it became a war-time HQ for the Canadian High Command in the north of England.

It was most recently used by the NHS as a drug and alcohol treatment centre.

The building’s renovation cost Atkinson’s owners Ian and Sue Steel more than £50,000.

Building work uncovered an ornate vaulted ceiling featuring fleurs de lys as well as Canadian maple flooring, both of which have been retained.

Old roasters have been re-used as furniture – one forms the base of one of the customer tables for example, while a grinder provides a quirky feature on another.

A 1913 Steinway grand piano which belonged to Ian’s aunt adds to the character.

The extension includes a Green Bean Store which doubles up as an ‘Origin Room’ with literature from some of the 40 countries from which Atkinson’s sources its coffee beans.

It also houses an open warehouse and a bakery area, again in keeping with Atkinson’s concept of a ‘work in progress’ visitor experience.

Cakes are made by Debbie Kaye, who also supplies the family’s Music Room cafe in Sun Square.

Atkinson’s has also now secured an alcohol licence and is serving bottled craft beers.

Films and slide shows will be shown using a projector and the Steels hope to embrace new technology by using 3D scanning to help preserve old roasting machines for posterity by producing replicas.

They have also worked with a PHD digital production student on micro-projections and hope that in the future customers will be able to play films about the story of coffee on their cups.

The family hope the Priory Hall will be used by the community and it has already drawn in the local lindy hopping group.

Ian said the idea was to “put a bit of culture into cafe culture”.

“The idea came from going around Hawkshead Brewery which mixes production, warehousing, distribution and retail,” he said.

“We were bursting at the seams in our little 30 square metre roastery next door and we were having to go down to a remote warehouse two or three times a week.

“We liked the idea of trying to do everything under one roof and with the Priory Hall being next door to our current building this was too good an opportunity to miss.

“The empty building had a forlorn feel to it and this was a chance to restore it as a stylish, iconic building.”

When the Steels took over Atkinson’s in February 2005 there were just two part-time staff but their expansion of the business has been such that it now employees 25 people.

Two new staff have been taken on following the opening of the extension.

“When we took over here we didn’t know there would be a ‘coffee boom’ just around the corner,” added Ian.

“Now everyone is into it and this latest development is a way of celebrating the real gem we have here in Atkinson’s.”

Visit for more details.