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Follow Leisure acquires Belfast-based café group District Coffee

Northern Irish hospitality brand Follow Leisure has acquired District’s four-strong coffee shops in Belfast, a move which the company says will double its footprint in the city

Follow Leisure also operates the Canteen, Morning Martha and Output specialty coffee shops | Photo credit: District Coffee


Follow Leisure, which operates the Canteen, Morning Martha and Output cafés in Northern Ireland, has acquired District Coffee for an undisclosed sum. 

District Coffee was founded by local businessman David Rea in 2016 and has four stores in Belfast. Follow Leisure has already said that it intends to close one ‘underperforming’ outlet when its lease expires later this year but will target new District stores in high footfall locations. 

Follow Leisure’s founder Ian McIldowney said that acquiring District would double the company’s footprint and that District will continue to operate as a stand-alone brand within the Follow Leisure group. 

“District has demonstrated robust trading in recent months and had a quick rebound following the removal of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. We view District as having significant future potential in many high footfall locations. The brand matches perfectly with the ethos of our other café brands of great coffee, a stand-out food offering and service with a local community-based feel,” said McIldowney. 

Alongside Canteen, Morning Martha and Output, Follow Leisure also operates three outlets of healthy dining brand Slim’s Healthy Kitchen, Cantina, a delivery-only Mexican kitchen, and two pop-up kiosks serving salads and burgers respectively.  

Northern Ireland has a strong independent coffee shop market, but popular branded café chains have targeted the country in recent years for expansion. 

Canadian coffee shop chain Tim Hortons first entered the Northern Irish market in 2018 with a Belfast city centre store the first of 20 planned in the region.  

Caffé Nero operates 15 outlets in Northern Ireland, with a flagship store at Belfast City Airport launched in June 2022. 

Follow Leisure will also face competition in high footfall areas from Irish operator Frank & Honest, which operates 216 self-service kiosks in 168 convenience stores in Northern Ireland.  

Convenience retailer Centra, which operates Frank & Honest machines in 94 of its Northern Irish stores, credited its in-store self-serve coffee offer with helping sales grow 2.5% to €1.98bn ($2bn) in 2021.  

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