If you asked her why she chose to work in my father’s business, she would tell you that in never occurred to her for one minute to do anything else. Before she was sixteen, she was impatient to leave school and join my father. It was 1942, and he was starting his own enterprise - H. R. Higgins (Coffee-man) wholesale only coffee. At this time, we were based in three rooms at the top of 43 South Molton Street, just off Oxford Street.
She recalled the anxiety she felt every morning, in those early years, coming out of Bond Street Underground station. She would pray that my father and 43 South Molton Street, had survived another night of bombing. My father spent most of the week on the premises, roasting and packing coffee all day and most of the night, snatching some sleep when he could.
He taught her the skills in grinding and packing coffee for his wholesale customers. Miss Audrey, as she became known, would deliver throughout the West End and City. She would usually travel by bus or tube, hoping to get some of the slow payers to settle their accounts. My father recalled that when one restaurant refused to pay, she promptly took the coffee to another, who did! He arranged for her to take a course in bookkeeping, and under his direction, she began to manage the accounts. I see her careful entries in those early journals.
These were hard testing years and I have no doubt that empathy, trust and loyalty between father and daughter contributed in no small way to the survival of the business. When my father was sent into hospital with suspected tuberculosis, she held things together during the weeks he was away. Fortunately, it wasn’t T.B.!
When the business moved premises in 1946 to the shop and basement of 42 South Molton Street, her focus was managing the office and accounts. If necessary she could take over roasting of coffee, and would serve customers at the counter. She had an engaging manner and many customers came to know her and ask for Miss Audrey both at South Molton Street and 79 Duke Street where H R Higgins (Coffee-man) has been since 1986.
Her working life was completely involved in coffee. She saw the growth of coffee drinking take off when the young forsook the pubs for the trendy coffee houses of the 1950’s. And how, during the 1970’s and 80’s, coffee started to become a necessary item in the weekly shop. Then into the 1990’s until her death in 2014, when the idea of going out for a coffee became a normal and necessary part of so many people’s daily routines. She mirrored these times in the many lectures and talks she gave. She was always keen to pass on her enthusiasm for coffee and encouraging her audiences to make their own discoveries.
Audrey represented the company on several visits to our suppliers in East Africa. We celebrated her 50 years in the coffee trade with a special occasion at 79 Duke Street. Right from coffee’s discovery in the 1500’s, there have been those who through their enthusiasm, dedication and love for the product have all earned a place in the story of coffee – Audrey must surely be one of them.