Owner of Seahorse Coffee Bar subjected to campaign to 'discredit' business and 'nasty comments' after winning pitch from popular couple at Hundred Acre Wood

THE owner of a refreshment truck replacing a popular long-standing couple at a beauty pitch says she has been subjected to ‘nasty comments’ and a campaign to ‘discredit’ her business after winning the tender.

Bolly Saffova-Said and her husband Zed said an emotional goodbye on Sunday to around 1,000 well-wishers after seven years at Hundred Acre Wood, West Walk, in the Forest of Bere in Wickham.

The Forestry Commission had been urged to keep the couple by furious supporters who launched a petition and raised questions over the tender process.

The new incumbent to the desired hotspot, Seahorse Coffee Bar, was due to start on Monday but decided to hold off after believing it would be ‘kinder to everyone involved’.

Staff at Seahorse Coffee Bar at Portchester Castle.

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Seahorse owner Sam White, speaking out to The News for the first time since winning the pitch, revealed the ‘thrill’ of winning the tender soon turned sour.

Sam, who only opened her small business in November 2019 trading at Portchester Castle, said she applied for the pitch after another trader told her about it. ‘I was very surprised and thrilled to win,’ she said.

Sam said tenders were determined on a points system scored from a variety of criteria with a successful bidder having to score highly in each category ensuring it is a fair process and not the highest financial bidder that is successful.

Bolly and Zed from Hundred Acre Wood

But since winning the pitch, Sam said: ‘There have been lots of unfounded, unproven allegations, all of which are spurious.

‘No-one – at or connected to Seahorse Coffee Bar – knows or is connected to anyone at Forestry England.

‘Nasty comments on social media about our company ethics and how we won the concession are just spiteful and to be honest have been stressful and hurtful to myself and staff.’

Sam said one campaigner claimed there was photographic evidence showing she knew someone from Forestry England.

She added: ‘This is not only deluded but quite simply libellous. For people to try and wrongly discredit a business because they favour another is rather poor, as are the anonymous calls and messages I have received.

‘To want to succeed and grow your business is not greed, it's ambition and drive, it's business.

‘Seahorse Coffee Bar is a small local business trying to succeed. The Seahorse team is a friendly bunch who love what we do.

‘We are passionate about serving great coffee and good food which is why we use as many local suppliers as possible.’

Speaking of the couple she is replacing, Sam said: ‘We have the utmost respect for Zed and Bolly and wish them every success in the future.’

Responding to the delayed opening she added: ‘We thought it would be kinder to everyone involved - Zed, Bolly and their supporters as well as my staff to leave a gap. But we are also having some work done on the van - solar panels and layout that has had some issues.’

A spokeswoman for Forestry England, responding to concerns over the tender process, said: ‘Questions raised by Zed and Bolly relating to the invitation to quote were addressed during the tender process, this included a site meeting with them.

‘We provided them with detailed feedback about their quotation to help with future bids and to support them in addressing their shortcomings.’