Truly humble people don’t come around in many sectors often enough yet, despite his meteoric rise to success and, some would say, fame, New World Trading Company’s (NWTC) head of bars Nick Whitby is modest in spite of his rapid journey to the top.
Whitby came into the sector by fluke. He had never been to college and started work in a tattoo parlour at 19, but hit a glass ceiling there in terms of progress and instead decided to go travelling to “discover myself”, he jokes.
His quest for cash to fund his travels took Whitby to NWTC’s Botanist at Alderley Edge at the age of 23, where he took a job as a bar tender. Admittedly, he hadn’t stepped foot behind a bar until that point and had the intention of staying for just a short time. Yet, his mind was changed sharply when Whitby “fell in love with the business”.
“I got an interview for the job through a friend and got there and just thought ‘wow, they know what they’re doing’,” Whitby recollects. “I picked stuff up very quickly and got pushed into a training role within three months and kept getting better at my job and progressed and I kept taking opportunity after opportunity.”
Whitby was a bar tender for 15 months, but as his role grew he started opening bars for NWTC and managed bars in other sites. He has been in head office for around 20 months now and appears to be making big improvements to the company’s bottom line.
‘Nobody else is going to make you do it’
“You have to grab every opportunity you’re given and run with it, nobody else is going to make you do it,” he advises.
But it wasn’t until he was recognised at the 2015 Great British Pub Awards (GBPAs), in the Diageo-sponsored Spirits Pub of the Year category, that he became known to the rest of the trade.
Whitby represented the winning spirits pub, the Smugglers’ Cove, Liverpool, at the GBPAs last year. He represented the bar at the Diageo finalists’ masterclass day held before the main pub awards and wowed judges with his Flash Gordon’s cocktail, which was also crowned a winner along with the Smugglers’ Cove at the pub industry ‘Oscars’.
He has since gone on to represent NWTC at spirits, pub and bar events across the UK and has also appeared on ITV’s This Morning alongside Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield as a cocktail expert.
“I think through being exposed to Diageo and all of these opportunities through The Morning Advertiser things have just exploded. I’m doing things I never thought I would, like speaking at events and appearing on tele to talk about something I love.”
Despite the high demand for his expertise, Whitby remains modest. It bewilders him that he is so often called upon to give his opinion about a sector where there are “so many more people with so much more knowledge”.
“I feel quite humble about it all really,” he adds. “I rarely take a step back and see how big my role is and how far I have come in such a short space of time.
"There are people out there and in our business who have 20 or 30 times more knowledge than me and it comes back to me being quite humble about what I do and how I do it. I don’t understand the people out there who are so arrogant. It doesn’t work for me"
“There are people out there and in our business who have 20 or 30 times more knowledge than me and it comes back to me being quite humble about what I do and how I do it. I don’t understand the people out there who are so arrogant. It doesn’t work for me.”
So, for the future, Whitby seems set on continuing to grow the company, whose managing director Chris Hill envisages being hundreds of sites strong. With the recent acquisition by private equity backer Graphite Capital, this is something NWTC hopes to see happen, the head of bars adds.
But what about his missed opportunity to travel, does Whitby have any regrets? Apparently not, he says: “If I had gone travelling, then I would have come back aged 27–28 with no money and no career. I didn’t need to go travelling to ‘find myself’ I’ve already done that and I love what I’m doing.”
- This feature was sponsored by Diageo's Bar Academy