What can a classy cafe bring to a gritty part of town?

Sat outside in the sun this weekend nursing a cappuccino at the newly-opened Cafe Teria in my part of North London got me thinking about how the opening of a classy cafe/bar/bakery can impact on an area.

Cupcakes: Bringing people to a rough area near you. 

Needless to say, there are parties who have investigated this in an academic way – in the US not surprisingly. At the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University they looked at whether there was a link between cupcake proliferation and the flow of capital investment in cities. Only in America I hear you say.

What this boiled down to was the issue of whether ‘cupcake gentrification’ exists. Does the appearance of cafes selling fancy stuff like the cupcake, artisanal bakeries, and flash delis take an area upmarket?

While we all know that the residents of Chelsea and Knightsbridge in London are drowning in a sea of double skinny lattes and the latest phenomenon whoopie pies, what would be the effect of dropping a purveyor of such goods in a less affluent area of town.

Behind that stucco-frontage they’re all eating cupcakes.

The developers of shopping centres have long recognised the merits of securing ‘preferred’ anchor tenants to new malls (at preferential rentals) as a way of bringing in other quality retailers, which in turn brings in the punters. But what about planners, house builders and developers introducing quality cafes and delis into certain areas as a way of attracting people to live and spend money there.

We are talking about ‘seeding’ areas with attractive facilities that will boost the credentials of the location and bring in people who might not have previously given the area a second look.

Something similar has taken place in the US with basketball hero Magic Johnson setting up his Urban Coffee Opportunities partnership that provided 50% of the financing required to bring Starbucks cafes to less affluent communities that were under-served by such services.

This has proved successful and the sports star has won awards for his initiative. So could something similar be repeated in the UK? I don’t have an answer, but it is an interesting thought and is something that almost tempted me to order a second coffee while I mulled it over just a little longer.