IN OCTOBER 2019, The Argus took to the streets of Brighton and Hove to see how many city centre sites lay empty.

Many retailers and restaurants were facing an uphill battle with a combination of online competition, rising rents and high business rates meaning many had been forced to close down.

In Western Road, the former bank site at number 79 lay empty.

But this was no surprise, it had been empty for a long time by this point.

Hopeful “To Let” signs were hanging from the exterior and metal sheeting was patched over the front door.

The windows were also boarded up.

But anyone who has taken a stroll down Western Road more recently has probably noticed the building is no longer empty.

It has been transformed by rapidly expanding coffee chain Mikel, or The Coffee Community.

The company now has more than 250 stores worldwide, launching its first site in the city of Larissa, in its home nation, in 2008.

Mikel’s popularity snowballed and more and more stores began cropping up across the country.

Sites in the United Arab Emirates followed in 2016, followed by London in 2015, then Australia and America in 2018.

Now, in 2020, the chain has made its first foray into Sussex.

The Argus:

The Brighton branch becomes the company’s third site in the UK, with existing cafes in Tottenham Court Road and Portobello Road –both in London.

And Mikel is not planning on stopping its fast expansion any time soon, with bosses saying there are currently “a large number of stores under construction”.

The brand’s website states: “Mikel never stopped expanding to different corners of the globe, even from its first day of operation back in 2008.

“From Greece to the USA and Australia, Mikel brings the whole world together in an interactive meeting place for socialising, exchanging ideas and indulging on a daily basis.

“Mikel is not just another coffee chain. It is a hangout.

“A place where people meet, swap ideas and come closer.

“A ‘community’ that is continuously spreading to every corner of the earth.

The Argus:

“From the selection of the raw material and the fine blends to the variety of choices and the high-end equipment, Mikel’s purpose is to offer you every day nothing but the best.”

Mikel offers a wide range of hot and cold drinks, ranging from classic coffees such as espressos and cappuccinos to less common brews, for example, the Greek frappe which is made by combining room temperature water, coffee and milk.

A quick shake and the frothy drink is complete.

Hungry customers can also choose from a range of cookies, croissants, cakes and sandwiches.

The building’s journey from bank to coffee brewer began in October last year when planning permission was granted by Brighton and Hove City Council to change the use of the site “from financial service to restaurant”.

This allowed internal alterations to be made to the layout, making it more customer friendly for coffee connoisseurs.

Last month, following its change in function, it was agreed that Mikel Coffee Shop would occupy the site following another planning application.

An officer’s report, submitted on September 28, read: “The proposed occupier would be Mikel Coffee shop and therefore require an opening time of 7am to be able to serve hot drinks and breakfast to the public including commuters.

“This is considered reasonable and a closing time of 11pm would be line with many of the surrounding A3 premises, (sites used for ‘the sale of food or drink for consumption on the premises or of hot food for consumption off the premises’) which are also in close proximity to dwellings.

“However, it is worth noting that neither of the adjoining buildings have a noise sensitive use, such as residential, at basement or ground floor levels, and that there is a condition in place to prevent a takeaway service being operated.”

One of the final features of the coffee shop to be submitted to the council for approval was the hanging sign outside.

This is an important feature of the chain’s venues, featuring “the familiar face of ‘grandpa Michael’, the picture of our founder’s father”. which has been displayed on its shops since the start of the company in Larissa 12 years ago.

It was originally planned to be larger and illuminated, but a heritage officer raised a number of concerns as the site forms part of a Grade II listed building, situated within the Regency Square Conservation Area.

Plans were amended, and a smaller hanging sign for the exterior of the shop was approved recently. It now hangs proudly, protruding from the front of the building in the exact position where a “to let” sign had been 12 months before.