Yorkshire’s Food Hero? You decide…

Recently retired, Rennick, a true Yorkshireman, has worked tirelessly for the last 50 years promoting all that is to be loved about fine food and drink throughout the Dales and the North of England.

Rennick Hodgson (known as Ricky to his nearest & dearest) is a man who had a dream that, with a lot of years of hard work, heaps of passion and some good old-fashioned determination, came true.

Back in the early 80s he was on a mission – to convert the tea drinking, instant powdered coffee drinking, Yorkshire population onto enjoying the best, most delicious coffees he could source from different regions all over the world.  So, with the help of wife Christine, his business was born – Coffee Care.  He wanted to share his knowledge, enthusiasm and most of all sheer enjoyment of coffee with absolutely anyone who would listen and he did!

The original Yorkshire Dales ‘Information Superhighway’, Rennick would drive from hotel to pub to café to office linking them all together with news and views – and of course, good coffee.

Rennick developed a love of food having been brought up by his parents in hotels that applauded quality, such as the Midland at Morecambe and the Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey. However, it was Catering College in Leeds in the 1960’s that first ignited his interest in coffee, which he studied as part of the course. He had also spent many happy summer holidays with his Aunt and Uncle in America during his upbringing – a nation that was fuelled on filter coffee.

On completion of college Rennick went to Canada to train in Hotel Management working for prestigious hotels in Edmonton, Vancouver and Jasper where he gained a great deal of knowledge on banqueting, food and beverages.

Rennick came back from Canada (somewhat reluctantly!) in 1969 following the outbreak of the Hong Kong flu virus which had left his parents critically ill and unable to run the Devonshire Arms Hotel.  He stepped in and ran the hotel for several years taking time to try to understand what the coffee industry had to offer hotels like the Devonshire – much of it quite shockingly bad!!!  This just fuelled his desire to share his love of good quality food and drink with caterers around the North of England, spreading the word that quality goods, carefully and reputably sourced, cooked, brewed or served with love and attention pleased their customers and would bring them back time and time again.

So, selling a product he loved, to an industry he knew so much about, was the obvious next step for Rennick.  Confident that his tasting skills were well honed – he had given a few Sommeliers a run for their money at wine tasting competitions – he set about putting together coffees from around the world that would complement different meals, occasions and times of the day (a nice easy going light roast blend for cafes to offer customers throughout the day, or a good bracing dark roast single origin coffee to finish off an evening meal).    He saw an exciting opportunity to sell new and exciting flavours to his Yorkshire brethren and was wholeheartedly determined to challenge peoples’ tastes and attitudes toward a beautiful product so over looked in the UK.

You could say he pipped his artisan bearded friends of today to the post by around 35 years! (Only then suits were the order of the day…).

Initially he started by selling to friends he had made up and down the Dales from his time at the Devonshire Arms.  His first delivery was stored in a tiny outside porch at home. However, his reputation quickly grew – it was such good coffee and his absolute passion and commitment converted people – there wasn’t a bar in the North that Rennick hadn’t propped up and convinced an unsuspecting landlord that he needed to serve good coffee not instant!

At the same time his close friend and ally Bob Wright was on the same mission to sell and promote Rennick’s second love – wine.  He set up the Wright Wine Company and together they hit the North – they were unstoppable and there was not a publican or hotelier in the Dales that did not at least enjoy sampling their goods with them – often long into the night!

Soon the warehouse expanded from a little stone porch to a small shop to a garage at home.  By the early 1990s Coffee Care needed its own home and moved into the Sidings Business Park in Skipton.  But again, it wasn’t long before the unit was full, and Coffee Care moved to its current home – the beautiful Millfields Hall in the heart of Skipton.

Here the Coffee House was opened as a flagship of what Coffee Care could offer.  Not content that Yorkshire and Cumbria’s catering industry were buying Coffee Care coffee Rennick wanted the general public to benefit from the huge range that he had in his warehouse – where else in the late 90s could you walk in and receive a perfectly made latte or cappuccino whilst selecting which of 40 coffees you like to take home, as beans or ground while you waited?

Whilst located at these beautiful premises the business grew from strength to strength with one thing coming through time and time again – that Rennick was a much loved character. His distinctive laugh left you in no doubt that Ricky was in the room!

It was also clear that Rennick hadn’t built up a business of customers he had built up a business of friends, many of which he is still in touch with today.  This was evidenced in times of crisis, such as the awful foot and mouth outbreak which left successful businesses struggling for funds.  He assured any of his customers that he would continue to deliver to them without payment until they were back on a level footing.  This put the business under great pressure but was testament to the amazing customer service Rennick wanted Coffee Care to provide and is one of the reasons Coffee Care still has customers that have been with us for over 30 years.

Not only was Rennick very much part of the Skipton and northern community but he understood the importance of the business community too. He took the provenance of his coffees seriously, visiting countries like Colombia, Costa Rica and Jamaica to understand how the coffees were grown and how it impacted on the communities it came from.

For many years he supported the events of the Licensed Vituallers Associations around Yorkshire and Cumbria.  He was also one of the founder members of the Beverage Standards Association (BSA) in the 1990s (a trade body committed to improving the standards and quality of products and service in the out of home hot beverage market). When he became Northern Chairman he insisted that all networking events that he organised for this national group were held in the North – hosted by independent businesses.   This demonstrated yet again how much he cared for the industry he had spent most of his life in and the importance of raising its profile in the North.  The Northern events were considered to be the best in the UK and were well attended each year!

You would think during all that he has done throughout his amazing life within the food and drink industry that his retirement would be spent relaxing but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Now Rennick has turned to an older love – wine – and has recently been inducted as Maitre de Compangnons of The Ordre des Compagnons du Beaujolais.  The Compangnons, we’re told, aim to share their love of Beaujolais with a broad audience in the liveliest fashion possible!   It is sad that Bob Wright is no longer around to share this with him, but it is testament to Bob’s similar outlook to business and life that Wright Wines continues to thrive and prosper.

Even now he is retired Ricky is still involved in the business that has seen his daughter Sarah and son-in-law Richard take over. He is always popping in to see the team and still likes to visit some of the customers who have now become great friends. The team especially love it when they get the Friday call from him to see if he can treat them to a drink after work for their efforts through the week.  He has inspired the new generation of team Coffee Care to carry on with his efforts, navigating changes in trends and developments but never compromising on his passion for quality, reliability and good customer service.

Rennick is part of the fabric of Skipton and beyond.  He comes from an era where they worked hard and were too modest to draw attention to their efforts and achievements.  Over the last 50 years Rennick has become well-loved and much appreciated by many hoteliers, publicans, restaurant owners, industry experts and old and new team members alike.  But (it has to be said) he couldn’t have done any of it without Christine, his wife, by his side.

So, what does a hero mean to you? According to the dictionary it is ‘a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities’. Here at Coffee Care we have our very own food and drink hero who we think is all the above plus so much more.

If you would like Rennick to be the official Yorkshire Food Hero, please vote here: Yorkshire Food Hero Award 2021 – deliciouslyorkshire