A look at Urban Pubs & Bars’ history

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Business anniversary: Urban Pubs & Bars is celebrating 10 years of trading this year
Business anniversary: Urban Pubs & Bars is celebrating 10 years of trading this year

Related tags Multi-site pub operators London Pubco + head office

We’ve taken a look back at how Urban Pubs & Bars was formed and how the group is dealing with the current challenges facing the sector.

The London-based multiple operator was founded a decade ago in 2014 by ex-Realpubs founders Nick Pring and Malcolm Heap.

Urban Pubs & Bars sites:

Bar Kick, Shoreditch

Bat & Ball, Stratford

The Black Horse, Fitzrovia

Camden Diner, Camden

Commercial Tavern, Spitalfields

Crown & Castle, Dalston

The Cyclist, Balham

Dehesa, Soho

Duke of York, Haggerston

Ember Yard, Soho

Exmouth Arms, Clerkenwell

Fleets, St Paul’s

Fountain & Ink, Southwark

The Fox at Crouch End

The Ganton Arms, Soho

The Gatehouse, Highgate

The Griffin, Shoreditch

Harrild & Sons, Farringdon

The Horseshoe, Hampstead

The Junction, Angel

Juno Rooms, Bank

Lord Wargrave, Marylebone

Nest, Bishopsgate

The Old Ship, Hackney

Opera Tavern, Covent Garden

Paradise, Kensal Green

Punch Tavern, Fleet Street

Queen’s Head, Shoreditch

The Railway, Putney

The Rose, New Cross Gate

Salt Yard, Fitzrovia

Salt Yard Borough, Borough Market

Salt Yard Tapas Bar, Shepherd’s Bush

Singer Tavern, Old Street

Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell

Three Johns, Islington

Victory Pub, Waterloo

Well & Bucket, Bethnal Green

Well Street Pizza, Hackney

The Wheatsheaf, Tooting Bec

The Whippet Inn, Kensal Rise

The White Lion, Stroud Green

The duo sold Realpubs to Greene King for a reported £53.1m​ in 2011. Under the terms of the agreement with Greene King, the pair worked for two years following the takeover.

Looking back at how Urban started, Pring told The Morning Advertiser​: “When we did Realpubs, we were at the forefront of the gastropub scene, we were among the first of the gastropub companies, probably the biggest gastropub multiple. We built it to 14 with our private equity partners and because we had private equity, we were disciplined about what we could do and stick to the gastropub formula.

“We felt our wings were clipped not lot long after finishing our two year earn out with Greene King, we got itchy feet and wanted to start another pub company. We wanted to have some fun and not be wedded to a formula but do things that were interesting, made us excited and made us money.

“When we started Urban Pubs & Bars, we just set out to have some fun and be entrepreneurial with all the opportunities that were out there.”

The now 42-strong business started with five pubs in London and Pring reflected on the sites Urban started out with.

Company history

He said: “Our first five sites included an old restaurant that we turned into a pub, a hotel in Hackney, a smokehouse, a classic gastropub, an old laundrette that we made into a pizza place and a 12,000sq ft clothes shop in a shopping centre that we turned into Bat & Ball.

“We funded it all out of our own money, putting on six different hats for those six different pubs.

“As time went on, we started to get a bit more disciplined about some of the things we were doing and ended up with four different offers.”

In 2018, Urban acquired the Salt Yard Group following the purchase of the group’s Opera Tavern in Covent Garden earlier in the year.

“We bought Salt Yard because it was a good deal. Our head of food at the time really loved the brand. We bought one site off them then they decided they didn’t want the three remaining sites so we bought those too.”

More recently, a trading update​ from Urban reported a rise in sales and turnover and alluded to estate expansion, including the potential of sites outside of the capital​.

The reason behind this success is due to the people within the business and the culture that has been created, Pring said.

Autonomy given

“We genuinely believe we give our managers a lot of autonomy and can make decisions that affect their business,” he added.

“We’ve got an absolutely brilliant team in place, senior team all the way down to managers and all of our teams across the pubs.

“Our staff retention is improving, we are spending a lot more time concentrating on that, promoting internally and development. It feels like a really good place to be. We’re up for a few awards  (including Best Managed Pub Company 2-50 sites in this year’s Publican Awards​) and are riding the crest of a wave at the moment.

“We’ve got all of our ducks in a row in head office in terms of infrastructure to go out in 2024 and get a whole load new sites and absorb them into the system and continue to grow.”

However, the business hasn’t been immune to the challenges facing the sector and Pring cited industrial action on the railways as the one that has had the biggest impact.

He said: “In the past year is the train strikes. They affect London massively, it’s cost us a lot of money in the past year and it’s incredibly frustrating,

“You can have a site that did a blinding week one week and the next its awful but you can’t cut your costs.”

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