I came into the industry when I was at college, partly because my mother was quite strict and she wouldn’t let me not get a job. I worked part-time in a pub and I fell in love with the work. At the
time I was doing a lot of work with the National Union of Students (NUS) at college, which I continued through university. I organised a lot of parties and events through the NUS and saw similarities between that and what I was doing for a living.
I was given the opportunity to move from Middlesbrough to London and finish my Fine Art degree there when I was about 20, and to work for Mitchells & Butlers. I continued to develop, and progressed with management – I didn’t do anything with my degree really. I started working for Brewhouse & Kitchen (B&K) about a year and half ago and since then I have seen a lot change in the company – it has got bigger. I help with inducting all the new general managers who come into the company, and have been part of projects including beer and music selection – a lot of different things in fact.
We are situated just behind Angel Tube station in east-central London. It is in a central business district and the offices surrounding us are our lifeline – our bread and butter. We rely on that base for our lunch and early evening trade. At weekends it is a different kettle of fish and we are slightly more of a destination. We are a fairly traditional B&K site – we are the fourth out of the 23 and so have that first-generation look. There’s lots of wood, copper and brass, the interior is fairly tidy and traditional looking. Some of the newer ones are a bit more modern and toned down.
We don’t just rely on being a pub that makes its own beer, we do a lot of other things to back it up. We have all the usual trimmings of a pub, excellent wine and gin selections. Spirits are quite high on our agenda at the moment, but we also offer a lot of experiences: beer and gin tastings, beer brewing, beer and food matching events. It is quite a busy site, with a brewery situated in the middle of the pub. The clientele is office-based and there is no real age range, but it is around late 20s to late 40s. Women probably make up 60% of our customer base, which some may say is unusual for a beer-led pub.
We serve food that fits with the B&K brand, traditional gastropub style food. We touch a lot of bases, with small plates, hearty mains, and classic pub stuff. Classics make up a huge part of our sales, but small plates are popular with big crowds and people who want something small, light and quick. We try to build on vegan and vegetarian options with every menu change, taking things off and adding things. Vegan and vegetarian selections make up around 50% of our menu, with the less meaty small plates backed up by mains like burgers. The two fall hand in hand for us these days, if it’s vegetarian it is also probably vegan. Food is a key development for us, we change menus seasonally. Developing the food offer is a huge focus, we never rest. We are always trying to push what we feel we can change to benefit the customer. I have noticed this is something the chain is huge on, never standing still and always thinking about the next way we can change and how it will benefit customers.
Customer favourites are usually house beers because it is hyper-local, the freshest beer you are going to get. Craft beer has a very short shelf life, the freshness doesn’t last, so the more local the better. You can’t get any more local than it being brewed in front of you. Our beers are what people are interested in because it’s got heritage and a backstory, feeling. Things that are deemed to be a bit cooler seem to be favourites too – Beavertown sells really well, for example, as it is trendy. Other breweries try to imitate those guys with their naming and packaging.
We are catering for the 4m people doing Dry January with our existing range of soft drinks and alcohol-free beers – and our food is fairly healthy. Gin is super popular at the moment, so we are pushing gin masterclasses. The serves, garnishes, and information we give customers is important to us.
Charity work is big for us. All B&Ks work closely with one local charity for six months to a year. Our’s is the National Autistic Society which is just down the road from us – we have a few charities within walking distance. We do a lot of fundraising with quizzes, and we had a barbecue on the front patio area in the summer. We raised money during the World Cup by selling tickets for a raffle to win a replica of the cup. Events are planned three months in advance and we have rugby and Valentine’s events coming up. It can be a bit hit and miss for city-based sites like us. We’ll steer towards something like a Prosecco offer rather than doing a Valentine’s event because we are more central and our customers mostly come after work just for a drink.
Beer masterclasses and brewing experience days are very popular. I think Islington is the second highest revenue generator for experiences in the company, which is pretty nice to have. We have a lot going on and people are still interested despite Dry January. The more opportunity you give people, the more you will see benefits.
The trade has changed massively since I came into it. I have worked in high tourist volume areas and when I did it was booming, but things change. The smoking ban massively affected where I worked in Greenwich, as it was inside a market place so we essentially had no outside smoking area. I have seen huge amounts of cultural changes in the hospitality sector but the tourism heart was a massive one that changed, and is constantly changing with things like Brexit and the strength of the pound.
I also worked in the late-night sector, at a late-night pool hall in Hackney called The Elbow Room. It was at a time when the borough was really cracking down on the late-night industry and it put a lot of pressure on people with later licences – it was an interesting period. Microbrewery-based schemes have seen a change in how people brew beer in London. Ten years ago there were, say, three breweries in London: Fuller’s, Twickenham and Meantime breweries. Now, there are hundreds, so much so that people have to apply for a licence to open a brewery. You have to go through some strict parameters now. It has been a fairly big change for us as a company – we have gone from opening pubs with breweries to opening pubs with breweries that are not functioning, and then having to get the licence over the line at a later date.
People have very different views on the brewing industry as a whole, some think there are too many breweries. I take the line of the more breweries the better – but not every one survives. I have worked for one that didn’t make it, but I feel the more breweries we have, the better quality our beer will become and the more the UK brewing industry will be known worldwide.
I think the plan for B&K is to slow down with the development of the size of the company and maybe focus internally on what we have already got. We have taken on quite a lot of pubs in the past two years, a huge undertaking. [Co-founders] Kris [Gumbrell] and Simon [Bunn] have worked so hard to do it. But ours is one of the older company sites and so needs a bit of a spruceup. Hopefully that means a refurbishment. We hope to nurture our current customers. The thing we find with our customers is that they change frequently – every year there will be a new batch of people in the offices, and businesses will come and go in the office buildings round and about.
We have to constantly develop relationships with those people and give them something to come for. I see potentially more experiences for our customers, we will be pushing out the gin events and maybe going into whisky. We are always trying to broaden our knowledge so we can pass it on to the customer too.
Staff: 16 team