Pret a Manger has apologised to a small independent cafe after two of its staff members joked that they were going to steal its customers.
According to the owner of the Atlas Grinds cafe in Stoke Newington, north-east London, the two Pret workers introduced themselves to one of the cafe's staff members on Monday when ordering coffee.
They asked questions about the trade and, when they were leaving, one joked: "Oh yeah, we'll steal your customers," with the other adding: "Maybe not for coffee but for food for sure."
Cafe owner Daniel told Yahoo News UK: "I find it just really rude and unprofessional considering they are moving to the area as a conglomerate considering the Stoke Newington area is very much centred around local independent businesses, it just really gripes with not only myself but the rest of the community."
"It's not about the competition it's about fitting in the community. At the end of the day it's the people who are going to decide where to spend their money and this area in particular is very aware of that."
The local Stoke Newington Business Association (SNBA), which represents small businesses in the area, said: "We’re saddened to hear about the comments made by a member of the Pret team to an independent business."
They added: "Independent businesses give Stokey its character and charm - they’re a massive part of what attracts people here in the first place.
"A big chain threatening to steal customers from a fledgling independent will only alienate them from the community they’re seeking to serve."
Kate Revere, the co-chair of the SNBA, said she had spoken to the staff at the new branch after the incident.
She welcomed them to the area and said she "asked them to be mindful when going into business" in the area.
She added: "They said it wasn’t their intention to be mean but then tried to tell me how brilliant Pret is and how much they will be bringing to the community."
She said the comments "really upset so many business owners."
The situation was raised by a Stoke Newington resident on Twitter on Wednesday and, in response, Pret said they had "reached out to the shop to apologise and have spoken to our employees to ensure this won’t happen again."
A Pret spokesperson said: “We have been made aware of an incident in which two employees made an ill-judged joke and we’ve since apologised to the business owners. We were disappointed to hear about these comments and they do not reflect the views of Pret as a business. We’ve spoken to our employees to ensure this won’t happen again.”
Daniel dismissed the apology he had received, saying: "They haven't really tried to contact me. I did however find an email this morning with an apology which was very much just corporate speak from page 15 of their PR manual."
"I will be expecting at least a personal apology from someone to actually come in to acknowledge this."
Atlas Grinds, which doubles up as a cocktail bar in the evenings, is a new business and describes itself as being an antidote to the idea of "no laptops and coffee shops closing at 4pm".