Connolly’s has consolidated all its activities to its bar and shop in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter after selling off its Solihull store to its manager.
The move, which comes a couple of years after the business sold its wholesale operation to Frazier’s, frees up the business to focus on its hybrid operation and to look for new sites where its Arch 13 concept could be replicated.
The Solihull branch, in Dovehouse Parade, has been taken on by Mark Stammers and will now trade under the Vine & Bine banner.
Chris Connolly says there was an option to extend the lease but due to his “advancing years” (he is 62) he was reluctant to make any further commitment to the shop.
“We took on the premises just over 10 years ago,” he says. “The lease came to an end and the landlords were prepared to be flexible but they wanted some degree of certainty from us.
“It’s based in a 1930s shopping parade – it’s a very strong location. We converted the first and second floors into a tasting room and offices and in the tasting room you can seat 20 people comfortably.
“It’s gone to someone who’s been working with us for 22 years and he’s taken on a couple of staff who were working with us, so we’ve had no redundancies. The whole thing has been done in a very amicable way.
“It was working well, it was ticking over and we had a great team in there. But actually if you’re driving it yourself as an owner-manager then it’s quite a different ball game, I think.
“It gives us a bit more time and a better work/life balance and a chance to take time off without worrying about what’s going on back at the farm, so to speak.”
Connolly’s daughter Abi runs the Arch 13 bar in a railway arch in Henrietta Street, a corner of which is sectioned off as the Connolly’s shop.
“Arch 13 is working well but Abi really isn’t interested in stand-alone retail. She’s much more interested in the hybrid model and she’s got some quite exciting plans to develop that and roll that out,” he says.
“We are actively looking for somewhere. The last two or three years have been difficult for everyone, and they continue to be difficult, but it’s working as well as it was before lockdown.”
Connolly’s started out in 1976, when Birmingham’s wine scene was nothing like as sophisticated as it is today. Loki provides some friendly rivalry, and more recently there has been a series of wine bar openings, and Midlands debuts for Vagabond and Vinoteca, both making their first forays outside of London.
“Birmingham is a big enough city to cope with that kind of competition,” says Connolly. “I think what we do is really quite different. We don’t get involved with Enomatic machines and this sort of thing. It’s much more service-driven and staff engage with customers; they chat to them and they give them a little taste of something if they’re not quite sure what they want.
“The cheese and meat side of things that we do is very important. Presentation is really strong and the quality is really high. It’s not just a little bit of something to soak up the alcohol.
“I like to think it’s the best cheeseboard you’ll find in Birmingham. We’ve had some fantastic TripAdvisor reviews recently. The food side of things is as important as the wine side although we are not a restaurant and we don’t have a full-on kitchen.”
Does Connolly feel that Birmingham is in any way insulated from the current woes facing so much of UK hospitality?
“The bar side of things is growing at the moment so I can’t say we are feeling the pinch. Obviously costs are going up, which makes things more difficult.
“I think Birmingham as a city is growing generally at the moment. The demographic is very mixed and very young and there is a buzz around the city. Fingers crossed from our point of view it’s going all right.”