6 ISSUES FOR JUST £6 Subscribe to Yorkshire Life today CLICK HERE

How Northallerton's Lewis & Cooper became a global gourmet emporium

00:11 05 June 2012

How Northallerton

How Northallerton's Lewis & Cooper became a global gourmet emporium

The chairman of Lewis & Cooper tells Jo Haywood how a market town grocery became a global gourmet emporium
Lewis & Cooper staff take a breath of fresh air in the early 1920s – and fill up the dog bowls left out for customers’ pets while they’re about itLewis & Cooper staff take a breath of fresh air in the early 1920s – and fill up the dog bowls left out for customers’ pets while they’re about it

George Lewis and Binks Barton Cooper were not interested in having a store on every corner when they launched their business in 1899. And, 113 years later, the brand they established is still very much about being the best rather than the biggest.

‘We have always seen ourselves as a completely different business to the likes of M&S,’ said Dr David Gearey, chairman of Lewis & Cooper. ‘We are resolutely about quality and variety.

‘We could have left Northallerton long ago, but we didn’t, and we won’t, because we love it there. I still thoroughly enjoy every visit I make to our Northallerton flagship store.’

And he has made a lot of visits over the years, starting when he was a small boy, popping in to see his Great-Uncle George (who was married to David’s granny’s sister) at work.

‘I remember as a child being intrigued that I could go anywhere I wanted in the store, even into the back rooms where the staff were working,’ he said. ‘It was still quite formal in those days and I was treated like Little Lord Fauntleroy.’

From the age of 15, David took an active role in the family business, which had by then firmly established itself as a purveyor of fine food and wine. Unfortunately, George died just a year later. But David’s business education continued under the tutelage of his Uncle Jack.

There have, in fact, only ever been three chairmen of Lewis & Cooper: George, Uncle Jack and now David. In the same way, there have been very few general managers. George ran the store himself for a number of years before passing the baton on to Maurice Fairburn, who passed it to Tony Howard, who passed it seamlessly to his twin daughters, Victoria and Bettina, who run the business today.

‘Tony came to me and said his girls wanted to come for a holiday job,’ said David. ‘That was about 25 years ago, and they’re still here. That is one heck of a holiday.

‘Our staff tend to stick with us because we stick with them. They are an extension of the family. We’ve always believed that a business lives and dies by its staff. They are the gate-keepers.’

This ethos can be traced back to the original Mr Lewis and Mr Cooper, who built their business through hard work, aided by a dedicated staff. They were sticklers for detail, going so far as to furnish their managers’ quarters with a discreet window so they could keep a constant vigil over the shop floor, but they also made a point of promoting from the ranks and encouraging employees’ progress.


Reassuringly, little has changed in the intervening years, perhaps because the company remains a family-run concern with a direct lineage linking the present owners with Mr Lewis (Mr Cooper sold his portion of the business in 1914).

‘He was always more of a sleeping partner, but the name stuck,’ David explained. ‘It’s got a nice ring to it and, by the time he left, they’d already established it as a recognisable brand.’

The name Lewis & Cooper has come to mean quality, first in Yorkshire, then nationally, and now, thanks to significant online sales,

internationally. But that growing reputation has not been matched by a growing army of stores. The Northallerton flagship remains largely unchanged, partly because ‘Yorkshire people don’t like us messing about with their store too much’, and, after 113 years, the company still only has three bricks-and-mortar outlets.

It recently opened its third store in Parliament Street, Harrogate, 10 years after it launched its Yarm branch and, while the company is not in a rush to expand, David is confident other shops will follow.

‘We want to expand further, but not at any cost,’ he said.
‘We have to find the right place and the right fit for us. Our objective is to have more stores and to become the north’s number one store for foodies, but caution is always key.’

He thinks his Great-Uncle George would have been particularly proud to see a Lewis & Cooper store in Harrogate as he and his wife Stella lived in Otley Road and held the town in great affection. ‘Harrogate has always been particularly important to us as a family,’ said David.

‘When I was a boy, mother and I would often head to the Winter Gardens to listen to a string quartet, usually after I’d been allowed to buy a colouring book so I wouldn’t cause a fuss. When we opened the Harrogate store, I thought a historic return journey was called for.

‘It turned out the Winter Gardens had become a Wetherspoons’ pub. I have to admit I enjoyed the music more this time round though.’

0 comments

Shop with us at Great British Life

More from Food & Drink

Friday, July 8, 2016
Ready for the summer

The remarkable revival of gin continues, proving a real tonic for distillers and drinkers

Read more
Friday, June 24, 2016
The ProCook (procook.co.uk) stoneware tagine in Moroccan blue and terracotta, £35

In the first of a new series in which we try out new gadgets, ingredients and kitchenalia, Jo Haywood test drives a tagine.

Read more
Monday, June 20, 2016
Healthy grains, superfoods, fruit and milk – a balanced way to start the day

Are you a cereal offender when it comes to skipping breakfast? Here’s a solution to bowl you over, says Jo Haywood

Read more
Yorkshire Food
Sunday, June 12, 2016
Malton Food Lovers Festival

We are all foodies in Yorkshire, and it's no surprise our diverse variety of food festivals are some of the most well attended in the country

Read more
Things to do in Yorkshire Yorkshire Food
Monday, June 6, 2016
90-day salt-aged beef sirloin and braised rib with celeriac cooked in malt, blewits, grains and leeks

Guests join us for a five-star lunch in five-star company.

Read more
Yorkshire Life Luncheon
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Oxo's Restaurant

Oxo on the Mount, part of the Mount Royal Hotel,York, serves food cooked with passion and pride.

Read more
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Lamb, wild garlic and wild asparagus

Jo Haywood takes a walk on the Wild side in Harrogate

Read more
Yorkshire Restaurants Harrogate
Monday, May 16, 2016
Craft beers are increasingly popular in local pubs

Where do you stand on fizzy, corporate beer from overseas? Personally, I think it has its place — that place being my fridge, writes Tony Greenway.

Read more
6 of the best Pubs and Bars
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Wagyu steak

Jo Haywood charts the rise of Yorkshire wagyu

Read more
Yorkshire Food
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Shoppers crowd the market

A community comes together to celebrate the finer foods of life, as Lucy Allen reports

Read more
Yorkshire Food Ilkley
Monday, May 9, 2016
Nasturtium, a colourful edible flower

Add something extra to a favourite family dish with a sprinkle of well chosen leaves

Read more
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Lightly grilled fruit to finish

There are healthier food choices to see you through a working day, as Esther Leach discovers

Read more
Leeds Yorkshire Food

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:



Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

subscription ad
Yorkshire Life Application Link

Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Local Business Directory

Yorkshire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area




Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search