THE business which was the world’s first Starbucks franchisee has secured £17million to expand its chain of cafes.

Southampton-based 23.5 Degrees is also the coffee giant’s biggest franchisee in the UK, with 81 stores employing around 1,300 staff.

It has secured a £17m funding package from HSBC to expand its portfolio of cafes.

The business currently has 81 UK cafes employing 1,300 and has contributed an estimated £25m to the economy in the past four to five years.

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The company plans seven more sites in the next four months and aims to have 300 stores and 6,000 employees by 2027.

Luca Contardo, finance director for 23.5 Degrees, said: “During the pandemic we were able to open nine stores which led to 200 jobs around the country.

“Fitting out new stores is very capital intensive, with each opening costing upwards of a six-figure sum, but our HSBC UK relationship director, Sharon Murphy, and her team have enabled our continuous growth to run smoothly.”

Gareth Evans, area director for Hampshire and Dorset at HSBC UK, said: “We are nation of coffee lovers, so it has been a pleasure to support the growth of 23.5 Degrees since the relationship began in 2017.

“They are a coffee powerhouse and it has been great to see the forward-thinking team grow and realise their ambitious growth strategy.”

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23.5 Degrees opened its first store in Liphook in 2013.

In 2015, the company doubled the number of its stores after purchasing 16 from Starbucks.

In the following years, it switched to a drive-through strategy.

Its franchised stores locally include those at Hedge End, Southampton’s Town Quay, Havant and St Leonards near Ringwood.

It reached 80 sites with the opening of its branch in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, recently. Its planned stores include branches in Sunderland and Bradford.

The business’s name relates to the fact that the world’s main coffee growing area can be found 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator.

The business recently said it was seeking freehold and leasehold drive-through sites on main routes, close to shopping destinations or large industrial estates.