Fired up into action

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Publicans hoping to develop new business ideas may find a visit to the National Licensed Business Show (NLBS) helpful. For Robert Stratford, his trip...

Publicans hoping to develop new business ideas may find a visit to the National Licensed Business Show (NLBS) helpful.

For Robert Stratford, his trip to last year's event at the Birmingham NEC, which allowed him to connect with scores of suppliers, helped him turn his plan for a new, upmarket bar and brasserie into reality.

After many years in the licensed trade, including 14 years running a club, Robert had taken a break for two years after the death of his wife. As he was conceiving the new venture in Skegness, he went to the NLBS for help and inspiration. "The show was a fantastic refresher.

I saw what products were new and what was going on since I'd left the trade," he says. "It inspired me to roll my sleeves up and really get started." Skegness needed a sophisticated bar as an alternative to the traditional beer palaces of the seaside town, he thought.

He wanted an establishment that had a city bar feel to it. Part of his NLBS mission was to seek advice about wines and spirits, and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Theatre was just the ticket, he says.

"I've drunk a few glasses of wine in my time but I didn't know much about the Trust, so having seen WSET at the show I took my barman down to London for a three-day WSET course," says Stratford. Up and running Stratford now offers 80 wines in his new venture, Nudge's Brasserie, which opened just before Christmas 2007 in a three-storey building that formerly housed a rundown bar with restaurant and kitchen above.

The place was completely refurbished. On the ground floor went the new brasserie, complete with all-leather sofas and a snug area, and on the first floor a new kitchen was installed. The upper floor was converted into living quarters.

"It was slow going at first, and I had to subsidise the first two or three months," he confesses, "but we're getting there." More recently, the second phase of Stratford's plan has been put into action. On July 4, he opened a Thai restaurant - the Total Thai Experience - on the first floor of the premises.

"The plates and cutlery are from Thailand, the waitresses wear traditional Thai dress and the cook is Thai," says Robert proudly. "And the food is out of this world!" The locals have responded "tremendously" to the town's first Thai restaurant.

He adds: "People stop my chef and his wife in the street, and I'm taking bookings three weeks in advance."

Stratford is grateful for the kickstart that the NLBS gave his venture. To anyone considering visiting this year's show he says: "Get yourself there - there's something for everyone. Whatever part of the industry you're in, you'll come away with something positive."

• NLBS will be held at the Birmingham NEC on September 23-25, 2008. It is supported by The Publican, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, and the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. Visit www.licensedbusiness.com

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