Months after Dunkin’ Donuts expanded its business to England, one of Britain’s largest coffee chains is planning its own British invasion of Boston — the heartland of Dunkin’ Country.
Caffè Nero, a London-based chain that operates more than 650 specialty coffee shops in six countries, is slated to open its first US restaurant in Downtown Crossing in late April.
The coffee shop is known for Italian espresso and has added drip coffee to its Boston menu to appeal to local tastes. The new cafe, to be located in the Millennium Place building next to the new Legal Crossing restaurant, will also feature sandwiches, salads, and cakes, cookies, and pastries from local bakeries.
“There’s a place for us in Boston and New England,” said Gerry Ford, the founder and chief executive of Caffè Nero. “We’re European, not American. We have a different flavor of coffee and food and a different feel. Boston, more so than many markets, has an affinity toward European things and I think our brand will fit in really well there.”
In fact, Caffè Nero had no shortage of options when it considered where to open its first shop in America. Among all of them, it selected a location less than 20 miles from the Canton headquarters of Dunkin Brands Group.
Ford said the timing of the move across the pond and straight into Dunkin’s backyard is unrelated to the Canton company’s expansion into Great Britain in December.
Dunkin’ Donuts currently has just two stores in the United Kingdom, both of which are located in London. But the company has agreements in place to open 50 stores in North and East London over the next five years. Dunkin’ previously had 30 stores in the country but pulled out in the mid-1990s.
Back in Boston, Ford acknowledges Dunkin’s stronghold on New England. But he contends that Caffè Nero offers a more premium product and will appeal to a different consumer. In fact, customers may be more likely to think of Caffè Nero as a alternative to Starbucks.
The company said it intends to open several more coffeehouses in Greater Boston over the next year, but would not offer any details.
Ford grew up in California and Europe but spent two years studying in the Boston area at Tufts University and Harvard. He founded Caffè Nero in London in 1997.
The chief executive said he has aspired to enter the US market for years, but needed to build brand awareness and add stores in Europe first.
Today, the chain has stores in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Poland, Ireland, and Cyprus.
Dennis Lombardi, a food service industry consultant at WD Partners in Ohio, applauded the British chain for understanding the American consumer and adding drip coffee, which it doesn’t serve in the United Kingdom. He said that move will put Caffè Nero shops in more direct competition with US speciality coffee brands, like Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee & Tea.
“Now the challenge will be to differentiate themselves,” he said.
A recent study released Wednesday by the NPD Group of Chicago found that Boston, Cambridge, and Quincy have 489 coffee shops, or roughly 1 shop per 9,500 residents.
That degree of concentration ranks 14th among US markets for coffee shops.
Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst and vice president of the NPD Group, said patrons will flock to Caffè Nero early on. The chain’s ability to retain those customers and gain market share against other strong coffee brands depends on convenience and cost.
“I’m certain this will be a market share battle,” Balzer said. “The question is what’s the cost, what’s the wait time, and which coffee shop will be more convenient to me?”