IN Mark Lee-Kilgariff’s own opinion “it’s been quite a ride”.

Having spent 18 years as a probation officer, the Knutsford resident wanted a career change.

When his first daughter was young, he visited Moor Park children’s play area countless times, wishing he could buy a decent cup of coffee, so much so that he knew that would be the location for his new business – serving coffee out of a 1976 Peugeot van.

Here, in our latest Business of the Week feature, Mark tells us how he’s built up a loyal customer following after opening up a second venue at Booths Hall Business Park, what the Covid-19 pandemic did for business and how he’s hoping to sit tight and weather the current cost-of-living crisis.

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Tatton Perk is in two locations - Moor Park and Booths Hall Business Park

Tatton Perk is in two locations - Moor Park and Booths Hall Business Park

What’s the name of the business?

Tatton Perk

What’s the address?

We have two sites - a coffee shop in King Street carpark (opposite the gorgeous Green Flag awarded Moor Park in Knutsford) and one at Booths Hall Business Park (next to the stunning ornamental gardens and waterfalls)

Are you the owner/manager?

Yep – I’m the owner and barista - and HR, recruitment, marketing, payroll, training department and everything else!

When did you open the business?

I’d been a probation officer for 18 years. I was working with high risk, high media interest cases towards the end of my time in the civil service and I was struggling to cope with the stress after being diagnosed as bi-polar. I needed to change my life.

I’d spent several years sat in Moor Park kids play area with my first daughter wishing I could get a decent brew. There was nowhere that did proper speciality coffee – the good stuff, rather than the bitter, over roasted commercial grade coffee that is so ubiquitous on the high street. So, I decided to take a huge step and set up a coffee van. Over several months, I sourced a gorgeous 1976 Peugeot van and with the help of family and friends, converted it to sell high quality coffee. I officially opened in September 2018.

Northwich Guardian: Tatton Perk on the day it first opened for businessTatton Perk on the day it first opened for business (Image: supplied)

I quickly built up a great customer base at Moor Park in Knutsford and things were going well for 12 months, until our street trading licence was up for a routine annual renewal. I’ve learned since that an admin error at CEC meant that my business was assessed as a new applicant rather than a renewal and therefore the meeting was public. A disgruntled local café made representations to Knutsford Town Council and they voted to revoke my permission to trade. Tatton Perk was closed immediately. Thankfully, one of my outraged customers set up petition with Cheshire East Council that received the highest ever number of signatures within 48 hours - almost 1,000. The Knutsford Guardian kindly reported the story and I was interviewed for podcasts. It was a frantic and stressful time but we were successful and Cheshire East overturned the decision a few weeks later and reinstated the licence. I started what I thought would be a long process of rebuilding my business but the support that I received from my customers was astonishing. I had long queues again from day one and people were fascinated by the story. Looking back, I believe the whole sorry affair helped to promote Tatton Perk far more widely than I could have achieved by myself and to discovered levels of loyalty and support from our amazing customers that we still enjoy today.


Piña colada and mojito inspired bakes are finger licking good

Has it always been in the same location?

We have always been synonymous with the Moor and when the council converted the old loo block in King Street carpark to a retail unit, we submitted a tender. The council loved the idea of a coffee shop serving the park and chose us over several proposals put forward for the unit. We created a takeaway hatch and deck - great for muddy paws - and with the help of my best buddy Al - a hugely skilled joiner who had fitted out the van for us - we created a 1970s inspired interior with an amazing new espresso machine. Around the same time, the opportunity arose to open at Booths Hall Business Park in a disused and very corporate looking reception pod. With the support of our landlords Bruntwood and an interior designer, who created bespoke wallpaper for us, we converted the unit and set up our second shop. We opened both units within a week of each other!

Tatton Perk has a loyal customer following

Tatton Perk has a loyal customer following

Are you local to the area? Did you grow up here?

My family lived near the Dog Wood entrance to Tatton Park when I was born. We moved around a lot during my childhood, but my wife and I moved back to Knutsford around 20 years ago and have raised our family here and run our respective businesses in the town.

Tell me a bit about your business

It’s simple - our mission is to serve the very best coffee. We taste test lots of coffees but have never found anything to challenge the stunning beans from Atkinsons in Lancaster, not surprising really, given that the Speciality Coffee Association rate it as in the top one per cent of coffee in the world! Atkinsons have welcomed us like family and we love working with them.

Our little team is made up of skilled baristas who know how to get the most from the coffee and the equipment. We are checking that our espresso - the basis of pretty much every drink - is extracting perfectly throughout every shift, making fine adjustments to maintain the highest quality. We are a little bit obsessive! But, that attention to detail has earned us the number one spot on Tripadvisor for coffee in Knutsford and Cheshire, a five star rating on Facebook and an overall 4.9 star rating across more than 150 reviews on Google. We have also won Tripadvisor Traveller’s Choice awards in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023, and have been named as a reason to live in Knutsford in The Times’ “Best Places to Live in the UK”. We were awarded the 2023 Knutsford Town Council Business Award for our engagement with the community.

What do you do? What services do you provide?

The same dedication to quality is found throughout everything that Tatton Perk serves – from our Ivory Coast white, Venezuelan 58 per cent and Haitian 75 per cent cocoa melted chocolate hot chocolates from the wonderful Kokoa Collection to the matcha, pumpkin spice, chai and turmeric spice blends from Blendsmiths that we incorporate into smoothly textured milk. Even our delicious loose leaf tea bags are sourced from local tea experts Tea From the Manor. For coffee connoisseurs, we’re curating a list of amazing single origin beans. These are dosed out into individual servings and frozen in aluminium containers to preserve peak freshness, then ground and brewed in front of the customer to order, on a V60 - a manual pour-over filter method that highlights the fruity note of these very special small batch coffee beans. We serve these in a carafe alongside full tasting notes.

We like to keep things as local as possible, so our cakes are from a range of outstanding local independent Knutsford and NW bakers - Bowl and Whisk, Williamsons and Ginger Bakers. We even proudly stock cinnamon buns topped with our own espresso glaze from a passionate amateur baker in Knutsford. If you’d like to try one, we advise you to reserve them as we quickly sell out. People sit in the shops waiting for them to be delivered at weekends - they really are sensational.

Even our range of beers is from local MBH and our small wine selection is chosen by Knutsford’s Morgan Edwards. We also have Aperol Spritz and our signature speciality espresso martini for sipping in the sunshine on the deck.

We genuinely try hard to foster great relationships with the wealth of fabulous businesses around Knutsford. We love how much they supported us when we faced difficulties. Rather than trying to save a few pennies by shopping at supermarkets, we choose Sheldon’s Dairy for all our milk. Even down to non-coffee related matters, we prefer to choose locals like Knutsford-based Heath Insurance, Bob Farnon’s for the van, Vikings for pretty much everything else. These choices matter to us.


The Knutsford coffee shop creating the perfect community blend

What’s your business background?

Before founding Tatton Perk, my experience was as a probation officer running rehabilitative interventions within the criminal justice system in prisons and courts etc. I had no business experience. I also had very little experience in making good coffee! A lot is possible with the right attitude, lots of library books and James Hoffmann’s YouTube channel. I am also fortunate enough to have been surrounded by very trusted and wise family and friends whose advice and guidance has been invaluable - and, having the ability to learn from my numerous mistakes. Incremental positive change is a solid way to grow. I feel very proud of what the team at Tatton Perk has achieved and find it bizarre that I was recently invited to do a talk to the business students at Knutsford Academy about what it takes to be an entrepreneur. It’s been quite the ride.

Why this type of business?

I just wanted a decent cup of coffee and set off down a rabbit hole when I discovered the ethos and ethical supply chain that is at the heart of speciality coffee. It’s a business model to be proud of, ensuring a better deal from farmer to barista.

The Tatton Perk all-stars - Mia, Alejandra, Sarah, Evie, Alex and I - will do our utmost to make your visit to our little coffee shops a highlight of your day!

Were you open before/during/after the Covid-19 pandemic? How did this affect your business?

When Covid hit the world changed. I had to close down during the initial lockdown. But, as the rules became more nuanced, I realised that I could carry on trading as I was based outside. I had long (socially distanced) queues every day and realised that the van was the only point of social contact for many of my customers. It was described as a beacon. I was so busy that I had to recruit another barista. There were lots of emotional chats, tears and gratitude on both sides of the serving counter during those tough days but we all pulled together as a community and got each other through.

Around that time, a new outdoor food and drink pop-up destination called One Central was being created in Altrincham. The owners - the team behind the mighty Con Club - reached out to us. They’d heard about the torrid time we’d had with our licence and invited us to run the coffee shop and bar. We eagerly agreed to join them. We recruited more staff and set up our little takeaway kiosk. We were so busy that we had to hire additional security to maintain the social distancing requirements set out by Trafford Council! It was always a temporary pop-up but we carried on longer than anyone expected. We loved our time in Altrincham and were sad to leave when the lease ended. We have great memories of being part of the wonderful One Central family.

Theres always a warm welcome at Tatton Perk

There's always a warm welcome at Tatton Perk

What makes your business different to others in the same area/field? What sets your business apart from your competitors?

Consistency, quality, expertise and the friendliest of welcomes. We consistently provide exceptional drinks and treats to our customers and enjoy forming strong friendships with them. We know what they order and have it ready for them as they enter the shop! We love Knutsford and we try hard to show our gratitude by supporting local charities and offering our shops as warm places. This means that anyone struggling in winter to keep themselves warm can sit in the shops - with no pressure to buy – and stay warm, maybe charge their phone and use the wifi. We even offer free drinks as our generous customers have paid forward lots of orders for people to claim.

We also promote live jazz in the church concerts at St John’s Church in the town. I love jazz so when the promoter and drummer Jack got chatting with me about his love of coffee and music, we were thrilled to offer help and sell tickets. There are gigs throughout the year so look out for the flyers or visit our social media for more info.

We are super dog friendly and offer free treats - made by one of regulars - water bowls and cuddles. Our serving hatch and deck is ideal for dog walkers as it allow you to grab a brew without having to come into the shop, although dog are welcome inside as well.

We have also made the Moor Park shop very suited to cyclists by adding a bike frame and a few bits of essential kit like a trial pump. We’re thrilled that our friends at Tatton Velo regularly begin their rides from the shop and we will soon be selling a book by a local author that lists several great circular rides that all start from the shop.

What’s next? What do the next few months hold for you and your business?

We plan to sit tight. Hospitality is going through a tough time at the moment with venues closing in record numbers. We hope that with our small premises and predominantly takeaway offering, we can weather the storm and will look to expand once the forecasts are brighter. We also think that we will part ways with our beloved old orange coffee van soon as we rarely use it. It will be sad to say goodbye to the old bus as it has become an iconic sight around Knutsford.