Inside Newcastle Sainsbury’s cafe, hit by closure – and here’s our verdict

Shoppers in two North Staffordshire towns will soon have to find other places to cool off after Sainsbury’s announced it would close most of its cafes.

StokeOnTrentLive reported earlier this week that the supermarket giant was set to close 200 cafes across the country, including Newcastle and Biddulph – although Leek and Nantwich survived the culling. The future of Stoke coffee remains uncertain.

I went to lunch at Sainsbury’s cafe in Newcastle on Thursday to see what shoppers in the city would miss when it closed.

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The first hurdle was finding it. I shop at this store quite often and can’t remember ever seeing the cafe before. It’s hidden in a corner after Argos and after all the clothes. Thankfully it was signed, but certainly not as prominently as it could have been.

I was expecting to find a full cafe menu, but it seems times have changed since before lockdown.

Gone are the days when you could choose an inexpensive hot meal, like a cooked breakfast or a burger and fries. Now your options include sandwiches (£2.85-£3.20), toast and paninis (both £3.75) from the chilled cupboard or a jumbo sausage roll (£1.40) or its vegan equivalent (£1.55). There were also pasta salads, fruit and children’s packed lunches available in the fridge.

You can also opt for roasted tomato and mascarpone soup (£2.55 with a roll of white braid and butter for an extra 65p), toasted tea cake (£1.60) or two slices of toast with jam, marmalade, honey or marmite (£1.40).

There’s even a cream tea option of scone, clotted cream and jam with tea (£2.95) or coffee (£3.75).

All-day breakfast options are porridge (£1.75) – or £1 for a child’s portion – with honey (35p) or banana (50p), or breakfast for £2.85 £, which could be bacon; sausage; egg, spinach and tomato; or a Plant Pioneers vegan sausage.

The soft drink machine was broken, but there was a range of coffees and teas available, and you could even get a free babyccino for your little ones.

I opted for a small cheese and tomato focaccia pizza (£3) from the refrigerated cabinet and a cup of filter coffee for £1.80.

The cashier staff member was friendly and cheerful – even when I searched all the cards in my purse and stood in line – and she called me “duck” which earned her instant bonus points from me.

My drink was immediately given to me to take to my table and my pizza was reheated and brought separately.

I chose a small round table with three cushioned chairs next to a sign reminding customers that the tables were for food and drinks purchased from the cafe – no store-bought treats!

From my position near the wall, I could enjoy the view from the huge windows and watch the comings and goings in the cafe.

When I arrived around 12:20, about three quarters of the tables were taken. There were friends meeting for coffee, individuals cooling off after a department store, and a few people reading their newspapers.

Felt many were regulars as they chatted happily with the staff. I overheard an older gentleman tell a member of staff how sad he was that the cafe was closing.

“‘This is going to make me homeless,’ he joked when the staff member told him the cafe would close on April 23. “It’s terrible. There can’t be many Sainsbury’s cafes with a view like this. “

And he was right. The floor to ceiling windows – although overlooking the car park with Walleys Quarry in the distance – made it a very pleasant and bright space.

The staff rushed to clear the tables as soon as people left, and the place was spotless.

My pizza came out quickly – I guess it doesn’t take too long to heat one up – and it was a lovely little meal that my six year old would have enjoyed as well.

The filling was nice and cheesy, but also quite sweet in a surprising but not unpleasant way. There was a strong onion aftertaste, but again, it wasn’t unpleasant.

The focaccia base was a bit soggy, but being reheated it was never going to be very crispy and that was fine.

And, of course, I had to turn the plate over to see if it was made in Stoke-on-Trent – and to my delight it turned out to be a Churchill plate.

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By then the lunch rush had passed and the cafe had emptied. The place was very quiet and relaxing – there was no music playing and just the hubbub of conversation from the remaining occupied tables. I wish I had a book with me and could sit down and relax for a while.

There was a calm and relaxing atmosphere.

That may be part of the problem with this cafe – presumably Sainsbury’s managers would rather it be crowded and bustling all day than feel like a peaceful sanctuary.

The only thing that broke the tranquility was the occasional rattle of carts. When I left, I added my tray to the rack — or the “customer self-cleaning station” as one sign put it — and headed out into the noisy surroundings of the store, enjoying a bit of quiet at the middle of my day.

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