Themed bars don’t happen by chance. They are often born from hours of meticulous thinking, consumer research and many sleepless nights. But this isn’t the case for the man behind Suede, Nottingham’s retro pizzeria and bar which did, admittedly, come together by chance.
James Irons, who founded the 80s/90s-themed eaterie four years ago, has based the design and feel of Suede on somewhere he and co-founder/manager Antonio Vendone would like to frequent themselves. Suede is packed with kitsch memorabilia from the decades that brought us the shell suit, shoulder pads and the floppy disc.
The drinks and food are shown on menus displayed in old VHS tape boxes – E.T, Ghost Busters, Dirty Dancing, anyone? The walls have been decorated with graffiti art, featuring the likes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and there’s a giant working Gameboy beside the bar. So yes, it is a haven for diners looking to relive their youth, as well as the younger members of society curious about the way generation before them lived.
“I guess when we opened this we didn’t set out with a particular agenda,” explains Irons. “We set out to create something that we enjoy and we did all of the work and it just turned out to be really retro.
“This wasn’t all part of a plan to make a venue that looked like something, but to make something for people about our age – mid to late-thirties. It’s nostalgic and the students find it really cool too.”
Having a tight theme may lead some to question the placement of mass brands, such as Coca-Cola, especially in a venue that has been designed to pull in those seeking something outside of the ‘norm’.
Grimy New York graffiti
Yet, the brand fits naturally in the environment. For instance, a grimy New York graffiti mural on the stairwell down to the bathroom is complemented by a neon Coca-Cola sign supplied by the brand. The iconic glass bottles also look just as much at home in the retro bar as they do anywhere else.
For all Irons claims that the venture came together by chance, he is no stranger to building businesses, which is most likely why Suede’s image is so strong. In Nottingham the entrepreneur has a tattoo shop, a clothing range and a milkshake bar, while Vendone has ambitions to set up a vegan health food shop.
Although Suede is relatively well established, the duo has plans to do more with it. The food offer is already firmed up (pizza), but there is more to be done with drinks. The pair are already planning on bringing shakes to the venue and are eyeing up a Coca-Cola frozen drinks machine, they say.
A movie night is already in action, which will be supported by Coca-Cola and the they offer a 9-inch pizza with a bottle of Coca-Cola for £6.95 at certain times on certain days. Within this offer, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is a hero drink, which is in high demand from customers, claims Irons.
But the next part of the adventure is to tap into the UK’s growing gaming market with a games night, explains Irons.
“We’re going to start doing this night on a Thursday,” he adds. “The games night will be a chance for people to come in and play lots of games and maybe we’ll even make a competition out of it.
“Like our movie night, we thought we’d partner with a soft drink and, partially, because we already have a lot of gamers asking for energy drinks. So we’re looking at Monster Energy Ultra, as well as Monster.”
There are also plans to bring non-alcoholic cocktails to the venture, which haven’t been trialled yet, says Vendone. “We haven’t really explored non-alcoholic cocktails and I think we’re going to start by doing things like Coke floats, which will fit really well here and I think we’re going to add that to the menu soon.”
Already 25% of total sales
Soft drinks already take 25% of the bar’s total sales, with drinks in total making up 50% and food the other half, he says. The pizza offer is inspired by Vendone’s Italian roots and are made fresh every day, he adds.
“Every two weeks we do an evening called Pizza Non-Stop, where we don’t stop serving pizza and we have a Death By Pizza night every Wednesday where we offer two-for-one on pizza.”
Suede has room for 65 covers, but plans to cut the bar in half will add more dining space, explains Irons, who says there is also a growing number of families coming to eat at the venue.
For the future, Irons and Vendone have high hopes, both for Suede and other planned ventures.
Irons says: “We’re doing so much here in Nottingham, so we’re talking to a landlord in east London to try and open a venue down there, which Antonio will manage. There are a lot of people interested in the site and the landlord has been up here to see what we’re doing, so hopefully it will happen.
“I’d also really like to open a drive-thru cinema in Nottingham, I went to one recently and it wasn’t that good because the food offer was wrong and it just didn’t work for me, but the idea is great. We know how to do pizza so that would be our food offer and, if people are driving, then they wouldn’t be able to drink alcohol, so we would be able to expand on our shakes and serve a big range of soft drinks.”
Nottingham may be a relatively small city, but there are big minds doing great things in the on-trade, which could soon, it appears, be exported to London.
Comment from Paul Grace, CCEP director of field sales
Who said there is no future in nostalgia? Whoever it was they got it wrong, it’s hard not to love what the guys at Suede have done in creating a fun, informal outlet with a genuine focus on quality standards.
Twenty-five percent of till ring being soft drinks is not unique to Suede.We know the share of soft drinks has increased steadily in recent years as traditional venues have remodelled. Today’s audience is looking for more than a burger with a fruit machine for mood lighting.
James and Antonio have created a great concept; designing and planning a venue as the type of place you would like to go to isn’t a bad place to start. This route automatically means you consider all the consumers’ needs and wants, and ensures you deliver the attention to detail needed, otherwise you are just in danger of disappointing yourself.
This is my final column in our pub and bar series. I’m running out of new ways to say this: get the range right, serve it well every time, price sensibly and tell people what’s on offer via the staff and menu.
The privilege of having a 130-year-old brand like Coca-Cola in our portfolio brings with it an amazing brand archive to play with. At CCEP we love working and investing with innovative operators like Suede, getting creative to fuse our brands with their concepts to create a relevant and memorable experience, whether that’s bespoke lighting, menu design or unique commissioned artwork.
If we believe the numbers going to the bank, shouldn’t soft drinks get 25% of your attention?