Business Vignette: Pint Shop
"My wife tells me that I’ve turned my two favourite things, food and beer, into my job. When I’m heading out for a day at a beer festival or visiting a brewer, she can’t believe I call it ‘work’."
Richard Holmes, together with his partner Benny Peverelli, opened Pint Shop in George Street last year (their first Pint Shop opened in Cambridge in 2013).
Here, he talks to Jeremy Smith about the highs and lows of starting a chain of pubs that aim to attract both the food and beer connoisseur as well as the customer who just wants a regular pint and packet of crisps on a Saturday night.
Hi Richard, could you outline what your role is within the Pint Shop brand and how it came about?
I oversee the business side of Pint Shop in a nutshell. That means I look after operations, marketing, finance and property. My business partner, Benny Peverelli, looks after the product and supplier side of the business, overseeing everything from the kitchens to our butchers to our maintenance contractors.
Did you run any businesses before turning to the hospitality/dining industry and what were they?
We met each other whilst working in London for a restaurant business called LEON. Benny was the executive chef for that business, and I was operations manager. By 2011, Benny had been with LEON for 6 years and myself about 3 and a half, and we were both looking for our next challenge. We spent quite a bit of time chewing the fat over a pint or two at the end of working days and soon realised that we had very similar ideas of what we wanted to do next. It seemed like a golden opportunity to do something together.
We left LEON later that year and started on our own entrepreneurial journey. We both have families so quitting the comfort of getting paid each month to chase our dream was quite a daunting task at first. It took nearly two years in the end to get our first Pint Shop in Cambridge open in late 2013 – much longer than we thought it would – but it was completely worth the wait.
What made you decide to set up an independent bistro bar, and why in Cambridge first?
We started Pint Shop because we love food and beer – that might sound lame, but it's the truth. We wanted to create the kind of bar that we’d like to drink in. We’re two pretty average guys, so we thought if we like it, then others will too. We felt at the time that there were a lot of good pubs around but not so many that looked after drinkers and diners equally well. We could find loads of good drinking pubs but the food was quite often 'vanilla' at best. Likewise, there are loads of good pubs to get food in, but if you wanted a pint and a packet of ready salted crisps at 7.30pm on a Saturday you felt like you were getting in the way, as most of these pubs were essentially a restaurant in a pub’s body.
We wanted Pint Shop to be a place where the two experiences exist side by side, where customers can choose how they use the establishment, but neither side encroaches on the other.
We always get asked, “Why Cambridge first?” The simple answer is that I’d lived there for the past ten years and knew it inside out. I knew the format would work there.
Without waxing too lyrically, what are the fundamental tenets of The Pint Shop?
Pint Shop is all about booze and food. We serve simple, seasonal, British food cooked over Oxford charcoal. We sell mostly British beer, all from small producers. Our idea is to find the best ingredients and suppliers that we can and serve those products as simply as possible. We combine this with a nice environment and a lovely team, and that’s it.
When did you open your Oxford branch (and why Oxford)?
Pint Shop Oxford opened in late 2016. Again, it’s a city that Benny and I know well as we both have family here. An opportunity presented itself with the site on George Street; we did our homework and decided it felt like the right thing to do.
Are there any differences between your market base in Cambridge and here in Oxford?
It’s still very early days in Oxford so it's hard to say. Cambridge is approaching maturity as a business and has a very large and loyal customer base: something we are amazingly grateful for. In Oxford, a lot of people are still first-time customers so it’s very different. Early signs are that the demographic is very similar. We are yet to win the corporate business in Oxford that we have in Cambridge, but we know that this takes time and we know that we need to win people’s confidence. There are a lot of great restaurants in Oxford with loyal customer bases and we are the new kids, so we know we’ll have to work hard to win people over.
What do you love most about your job?
My wife tells me that I’ve turned my two favourite things, food and beer, into my job. When I’m heading out for a day at a beer festival or visiting a brewer, she can’t believe I call it ‘work’.
The beer side of the business really excites me. The British beer scene is chalk and cheese from where it was just five years ago and it's hugely exciting to be a very small part of that, but probably the aspect I like best is the people. We have about 80 people working for us now, and some people have been with us since the beginning (in Cambridge, our deputy manager started with us as a part-time runner). Watching people develop and grow with the business is something really special and is probably one of the biggest motivations for me personally.
And what do you least like?
You have to make some tough calls sometimes. My job is to look after the interests of the business and sometimes this cannot always be the popular decision. We are a ‘people’ business and that can bring some tough situations at times, but that’s the same for all small businesses up and down the country – you just have to deal with it in the right way.
Where would you like the brand to be in five years?
We’re looking to grow and open more Pint Shops but I’m not going to put a number on it. It’s about finding the right sites and getting the product spot on, and that takes time and resources. We’re only small and it’s all private money, so there’s no grand roll-out plans. It’s about slow and steady growth for now.
Have you learned any lessons since setting up the company?
Loads. You never stop learning – I’ve learned far too many lessons to go into detail on. What I would say is it’s all about people. Spend time hiring the right people and let them get on with it. The biggest learning curve is realising you can’t control everything. I’ve learnt that my job is to coach and guide rather than control. It’s not always easy to do, but I’m working on it.
Top Image – © Jason Lowe Ltd
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