My Pub: The Botanist, Newcastle

By Georgina Townshend contact

- Last updated on GMT

Inside the Botanist, Newcastle
Inside the Botanist, Newcastle

Related tags: People, Thing, Newcastle

New World Trading Company’s Newcastle Botanist site is a prime example of a bar that encourages innovation, creativity and well-trained staff. General manager Andrew Shiel-Redfern explains what it takes to run a site that ticks all the boxes.

The pub

Originally it was an old shopping mall then, three and a half years ago, we took over the upstairs part of the building and opened the pub in December 2014.

The Botanist is everything botanical, so we have a beautiful open-top roof garden with some outside huts, an outdoor bar, and a beautiful tree that is the centrepiece of the room. It goes behind the bar and rises up to a beautifully lit dome, which you can see from quite far away.

We also have a restaurant that seats just over 100 people, and a private dining room that seats 12, and we opened a new mezzanine floor recently that has 150 covers with views over the tree.

We are averaging about £100,000 a week in net sales, we hold a Guinness World Record, and do some pretty cool things with a pretty cool bar too – along with a wonderful bunch of people that run it.

The general manager and the company

In my previous role, I spent 11 years at a company called Pitcher & Piano. I left for an opportunity to work with Living Ventures, which was previously part of New World Trading Company (NWTC). It was regarded as the best in the business for what it did. I wanted to work for the best people I possibly could, so when NWTC brought this bar to Newcastle, I wanted to be involved. It’s been a huge learning curve. I have much more responsibility. As general manager you are accountable for every single pound in that business, so it’s almost like having your own bar but with support when you need it.

It’s very demanding, without a doubt the hardest job I have ever had, but with high demand comes incredibly high reward.

It’s very rewarding working for this company, we win a lot of awards, we are on The Sunday Times Best 100 Companies To Work For list, and my bar has won several awards as well.

The trade

The Botanist is quite food-led. I wanted to run something that was food-led, more service orientated. People come here for the food.

We get the after-work crowd, ladies who lunch, families, children, and a lot of groups for celebrations and special occasions. We do a wonderful kids’ menu that appeals to a lot of people.

We also cater for business meetings and work functions for up to 100 people. And, of course, there are people who just come in for drinks and cocktails. We pretty much tick every single box, I would say, with everyone aged 18 and upwards.

In terms of days of the week, the difference at weekends is that it becomes a lot more wet-led, although we still do an awful lot of food. Last Saturday, we did 600 covers on food. So the restaurant is fully booked all day. We then have tables for walk-in guests. The bar is just a lot busier.

On a Wednesday night, we might do 100 to 150 covers, with people enjoying our live music, which is the DNA of our business.

You still get people drinking in the bar midweek but there’s not that volume of people on a Wednesday that are going out compared with a Saturday. The mix and the clientele is the same
on a Wednesday compared with a Saturday, the only difference is Saturday is a lot busier.

The team

One of my favourite things about the Botanist is that I was able to put together what I would call my ‘A team’ – the best people I’ve ever met and worked with. People who I thought would follow me and support me.

In three years, we’ve only really changed one manager. The bar has 83 staff members and I have a team of managers to help look after that side of things, plus a strong kitchen team
as well, and strong people above who support me. We make sure we hire the right people, look after them, and train them very well.

The one thing I would probably say separates us from everyone else is the effort and time we put into training our staff and making sure we have the right people to look after our guests.

The food

I would say our food is hearty, good old-fashioned food. It’s pies, it’s steaks, the majority of it is home-made, it’s fresh. It’s just feel-good food. We have a good steak, a solid burger, and our famous hanging kebabs.

A customer favourite would be the chicken hanging kebab. We did about 2,500 covers last week and served about 1,000 chicken kebabs. They absolutely fly out – a firm favourite.

Botanist 2

The drink

We have a huge range of cocktails that we focus around fresh fruits and botanicals. We use a lot of herbs in our cocktails and keep with the theme of the bar. We have an extensive beer and cider list, which at the last count numbered around 83 bottled beers and ciders on our menu. We have some quite mainstream ones you would expect most bars to have, but we also do some bespoke and niche drinks that appeal to craft beer enthusiasts. We have gone down the fruity ale route as well.

The biggest thing we have done recently is launch Budvar tank beer, which is unpasteurised Budvar so has a shelf life of three weeks. It is the freshest beer can possibly be. It comes off the brewing process and comes straight to site. We have some huge tanks that are filled and we dispense that.

We are certainly the only bar in Newcastle to have this and it is probably one of the best products we have ever sold.

The events

One memorable event we’ve run is our ‘fizz and fortunes’. Customers get a glass of Prosecco and then get their fortune told.

As we are just outside Grey’s Monument in Newcastle, we have run an event called ‘dinner with the earl’. It is a three-course meal, followed by a private trip up to the top of monument, which is not open to the public. Not many people get the opportunity to do that and it has gone down very well. Both times we have done it, it has sold out very quickly.

We do a lot of floral masterclasses, where guests take part in flower making. We have also worked with Molton Brown on events and have done a perfume class where customers make their own perfume using botanicals.

We do a lot of individual events, which is not very common. The idea is to stand out. They are not necessarily money-making events, they are about offering something that is a little different, a little more creative and outside the box so it gets people talking.

We are going to open a little earlier at the weekend to offer an unlimited brunch for a period of time to see how that goes.

The future

We have just invested about £150,000 in building a new floor, to go with our very successful restaurant and bar area.

We launched that a week ago, and the idea behind it is to enable us to have more functions. We’ve got a prime, city centre bar with wonderful views and have a function space that can host 90 people. We have also launched the Budvar tank beer. We are always trying to be innovative, and we always try to be creative with what we do. We never settle, the future is looking very good and, next year will be one of our strongest years to date.

What makes it special?

It’s unique, no one else thought to do a bar in that space. It was empty for a while until we came along. It’s beautifully designed, we still get a lot of people walking in and taking pictures three years in.

We did a survey around a year ago and asked people what their favourite thing about the Botanist was. About 80% of people said what brings them back is the staff. So that is probably the thing I am proudest of – the people who make it happen. I think we have the best-trained staff in Newcastle, we invest a lot of money in training them and they seem to enjoy their job.

They, for me, are the one thing that makes us stand out from anything else. You can put a tree behind any bar in Newcastle, there are plenty of bars with outdoor areas, but I don’t think there is a bar in Newcastle that invests as much as we do in our staff, and as a result they stand head and shoulders above anyone else in the city.

It means people are coming back be-cause they’re getting great, friendly service, and it’s very inviting and hospitable, which is what we are all about.     

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