How the West End was won (by Corney and Barrow)

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Related tags: Recession, London

Through boom and gloom, Corney and Barrow has catered for the movers and shakers in the CityAs the global meltdown threatens the British economy, the...

Through boom and gloom, Corney and Barrow has catered for the movers and shakers in the City

As the global meltdown threatens the British economy, the boys and girls in the City are preparing for a tough time.

But, if it eats into their bonuses, it's unlikely there won't be a need for somewhere they can relax and knock back a glass of wine or two.

Corney & Barrow this month opens two new bars in London's financial district, bringing the size of its estate up to a dozen.

After 15 years' serving the City, the chain has also launched its first bar outside its original trading area.

The three-storey outlet off Trafalgar Square in the heart of London's theatreland has proved the experiment was a good investment.

"The West End is potentially very exciting for us," said managing director Sarah Heward. "We hope it will be the first of a cluster in the area."

While belts are being tightened in the financial sector, Heward said Corney & Barrow was confident about the future, with plans for four or five more sites in the City.

"While people may not go to restaurants for expensive lunches any more, they are popping out for a glass of wine and a sandwich instead," she said.

Heward has headed Corney & Barrow Wine Bars for four years, rising from trainee manager of its original Old Broad Street outlet.

Since the company was created 15 years ago, it has developed along with its City customers from the boom of the mid-1980s. Its Cannon Street site even has a TV screen giving up-to-date information on the futures market.

It is a long way from the business' roots in a little wine shop in Old Broad Street, opened by Edward Bland Corney in 1780. His son, Thomas, brought in his cousin, Robert Phillipson Barrow, in 1838 and the name Corney & Barrow was born.

The upmarket wine merchant grew over the next 150 years, remaining independent despite a spell as part of United Wine Traders, now Diageo's UDV, from 1961 to 1969.

In 1880 it moved across the road to a bigger shop and added a wine bar. But it did not decide to turn this into a chain for another 100 years.

The bars originally expanded within the financial district around the Stock Exchange and the Bank of England but quickly followed the shift to the new developments in Docklands.

Corney & Barrow also owns two pizza restaurant-bars known as Coates, named after a wine merchants bought by the group in the 1960s.

The 12 wine bars employ about 175 staff who receive regular training, especially in understanding wines.

About half the workforce are travellers from Australasia or South Africa, which means there is a higher turnover of staff. However, the company works hard to recruit and keep good people, offering bonuses to everyone from bar workers to managers.

In August the bar chain ventured outside the area of its roots for the first time, with a flagship site in St Martin's Lane.

Formerly a bank, it offers more than any of the other sites, with a brasserie and champagne bar. It is also the first to open on Saturdays — the customer base at its City sites disappears at weekends.

Last week the company was back in its native land to open its 11th outlet, a vaulted basement bar in Jewry Street.

And next week it returns to its roots, opening a bar on the site of its 19th Century shop and wine bar in Old Broad Street, which closed in 1995.

Heward said: "We performed well during the last recession so, if there were an economic downturn, we would be just as strong."

Related topics: MA Leaders Club

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