Owner of one of Harborough’s most popular coffee houses dies after reportedly contracting coronavirus

The community pays tribute to the public-spirited Raj Aggarwal who did so much to help others during this pandemic

Friday, 10th April 2020, 5:34 pm
Updated Friday, 10th April 2020, 5:36 pm

The owner of one of Market Harborough’s most popular coffee houses has died after reportedly contracting the coronavirus.

Raj Aggarwal, 51, who ran the Insomnia Coffee Shop in the Symington Building on Adam and Eve Street, passed away on Thursday April 9.

The public-spirited, award-winning top retailer’s death has devastated his wife Sunita, his family, many friends and hundreds of customers.

Raj Aggarwal

Harborough MP Neil O’Brien has also paid his own heartfelt tribute to Raj after joking that Insomnia had become his “second office”.

Hailed as a true “retail legend”, Raj and his beloved wife Sunita also owned a Spar shop in Wigston as well as stores in Leicester and Hackenthorpe, near Sheffield, South Yorks.

And the dynamic business couple opened another branch of international franchise Insomnia Coffee in Coalville in June 2018.

Stunned staff at their coffee house in Market Harborough announced Raj’s death on the café’s Facebook page on Good Friday.

Raj Aggarwal dropping off food for NHS staff at Glenfield Hospital.

They say: “It is with great sadness to have to announce that Raj, the owner of our coffee shop, passed away yesterday morning.

“This is difficult news for his family, friends and the Insomnia family to who we send out loving thoughts and prayers at this devastating time.”

Raj was known by his many friends, family, customers and business associates to be a generous, friendly, vibrant character with a ready smile and without an enemy in the world.

“He will be well and truly missed by everyone who knew him,” said his shattered team at Insomnia Coffee in Harborough, which has been a big success since Raj opened it in 2016.

Raj Aggarwal with Harborough MP Neil O'Brien.

“May he rest peacefully.”

Well-respected industry website Talking Retail is reporting Raj died after “apparently contracting the coronavirus, becoming the second independent retailer known to have died from the disease”.

A member of staff at the businessman’s Spar store in Queens Drive, Wigston, told the Harborough Mail: “It’s very sad – we are all very shaken up by Raj’s passing.

“Tragically he ended up catching the coronavirus.

“Raj was so big-hearted that he had been taking in tea, coffee and biscuits for frontline NHS workers at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester.

“We fear that he might have caught it then and sadly he never recovered.”

The man, who didn’t want to be named, added: “I believe he had two children and his whole family are devastated as you can imagine.

“All our thoughts go out to them and his friends at this terrible time.

“The mood here is very sombre.

“Raj was a fantastic boss and would do anything for anyone - no one had a bad word to say about him.”

Local MP Neil O’Brien told the Mail on Friday: “Raj was a lovely man.

“He had so much energy and he was always involved in something.”

Neil added: “I knew Raj very well through his business in Market Harborough.

“We often joked that the Insomnia coffee shop was my second office because I held so many meetings there.

“Raj will be greatly missed by his many customers as well as everyone else who knew him.”

Raj was an active member of the trade body NFRN’s East Midlands district - and also attended branch meetings in Sheffield.

Federation National President Stuart Reddish, who was a good friend, said: “I am shocked and saddened.

“Raj was such a lively character and a legend when it came to retailing.

“In recent months he had expressed an interest in becoming more heavily involved in Federation activities and had so much to offer.

“His death is a huge loss to the industry.”

As soon as the Covid-19 crisis blew up altruistic Raj put his shoulder to the wheel.

While still running his many businesses, he tirelessly helped frontline NHS staff at local hospitals as well as handing out food to struggling homeless people.

Poignantly, selfless Raj said in his final Facebook post on Friday March 27: “Next stop Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, dropping off tea, coffee and biscuits for our frontline NFS staff who are doing an amazing job #strongertogether.”

NFRN chief operating officer Greg Deacon said: “Raj was a larger-than-life character, with his booming smile and laughter.

“He was an incredibly passionate, caring and bright retailer that our industry will dearly miss but never forget.

“A true gentleman and a retail legend.”