Craig told the MA Leaders Club conference at Fabric nightclub in Farringdon, London, on Thursday 24 February it was when his craft beer pub operation, run with business partner James Morgan, was taking off that Punch Pubs approached them to establish a joint venture, and a flurry of site openings has taken place during the past 12 months.
He said: “If you are a good operator, opportunities will come to you – and build on your network too.
“Big Smoke started in this building. A friend introduced me to someone who would become my business partner and he gave me my first job in a pub."
Great progress made
Craig continued: “We started our own brewery at the back of a pub but neither of us had any skills at all. It was a former stables and we had aspirations for somewhere trendy but it was a great success and we put out decent beer. We opened five pubs with Greene King and later Punch came on the scene.”
Punch Pubs’ Andy Spencer added: “We opened our first site together then closed it immediately because of Covid but we have made great progress and taken great strides.
“We are keen to work with great people and this joint venture has real legs for us. They can bring a level of sales we can’t get to so we are excited about that.
“We got to eight sites pretty quickly. It has tested us but we have a structure in place we will double size of it quite quickly. And we have learnt a lot in the past 12 months.”
The right partnership
Craig said: “The joint venture means Punch genuinely love pubs just as we do. It was the right partnership – they have great sites and, quite frankly, the cash for capex spend, and it was a good match for us.”
He admitted Big Smoke was a team of scrappy entrepreneurs that were living “hand to mouth” so working with punch and “slotting into their machine” was an eye opener and a challenge, which led to the business becoming much more professional but they still “get on with the fun stuff”.
In hindsight, both Spencer and Craig said they may have taken a bit more time but opening eight sites within a year was a great achievement.
Spencer concluded: “These guys are brilliant operators and we let them get on with it.”