Custard and wine combine in Brum
Wholesaler Wine Freedom is all set to expand its offering to include a wine bar and shop in Digbeth, Birmingham.
Co-owner Sam Olive explains: “Currently we are trade focused, supplying a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants around the Midlands and the next stage of our development will be to become more business-to-consumer.”
Olive and his business partner, Taylor Meanwell, have over 15 years’ experience in the hospitality and retail sectors, with Bibendum, Avery’s and Majestic featuring in Olive’s CV alone.
“We’ve been a slightly nomadic wine wholesaler for the last four years,” he says. “We’ve found this lovely 2,500sq ft unit and one of the great things about it is that while we never would have found something that size and layout in the city, it is only a 10-minute walk from the city centre.”
The site is part of the Bird’s Custard Factory estate. Its units and work-spaces, with their original Crittall windows, high ceilings and exposed steels, are straight out of central casting for “stylish urban hang-out”.
“The main driver for us is wine education and this will be at the heart of everything we’ll be doing,” Olive says. “We’ll be creating experiences where you’ve got education and tasting stories coming together, from straightforward wine tastings to big wine parties. We’re putting a kitchen in there too so we can start doing some great things with food and wine.
“Hopefully we will be a WSET course provider – a lot of that will be trade focused during the start of the week. We’re putting in a nice big bar with retail around the edge and we can fit in a good 120 or so standing. Although there is room for 80+ covers, we’ll see what the kitchen can cope with.”
Patience is the name of the game here – and Olive is pretty Zen-like when discussing the current situation. “Most of our customers are going to have a massive downturn in trade but I’m sure we’ll come out of it,” he says. “For now we just want to keep communication open.
“We’re biding our time; the wine bar and shop launch will hopefully take place in June or July. In the next few months we’ll be getting our e-commerce operation off the ground.
“It’s a work in progress – we are doing some crowd-funding as and when this coronavirus subsides. We are working with a local architect to create a nice big, flexible space for friends, family and businesses to come together and have a good time and learn a little bit about wine.”
Former Corks Out crypt to reopen
One of Chester’s oldest buildings, formerly inhabited by Corks Out, has been given a new lease of life and will re-open this summer as Vin Santo under the ownership of Simon Parkinson.
Parkinson, owner of Vinological in Chester market, explains the two shops will complement each other but will be run completely separately. “Vin Santo is a different concept to Vinological and has a different target audience,” he says.
The ancient Watergate Street shop underwent extensive renovations in 2017 and Parkinson, who has been in negotiations to secure the site since early January, has been able to purchase all the fixtures and fittings as well as the Enomatics. “The refurbishment was fantastic so we are not making a huge number of changes; for all intents and purposes it is a ready-to-go store,” he says.
Vinological will continue under the management of Will Honeywell and Parkinson will welcome Tom Scargill as the manager at Vin Santo. “Tom and I worked together in Corks Out, Chester many years ago,” he says, “so it’s a bit of a homecoming in a way and we hope that will be a draw for the customers. We want all our former regulars to know that we’re back and we can deliver exactly what they loved the first time around.
“We are looking at doing something a little bit different to the regular wine bar/shop model in terms of the food we’ll be serving, but I’m keeping that under wraps for now.”
Whalley can wait for new wine bar
Tom Jones at The Whalley Wine Shop has been looking to separate out the retail and on-trade aspects of the business, so when the site next door became available, he jumped at the chance to take it on as a wine bar.
“It’s a challenging time for all of us,” he says, “but you have to look past this and plan for what the next step is.”
Originally the idea was to open in the old Barclays bank site this summer, but for obvious reasons things are on hold for now. Jones says: “It’s still bubbling away in the background, and though the everyday stuff has ground to a halt, we’re still heading in the right direction.
“We’re lucky that we can carry on with the delivery side of things. It gives us the luxury of being able to plan how we’re going to grow.”
Jones anticipates that he will need a bar manager and an assistant manager as well as a number of part-time bar staff.
“I want to give quite a bit of freedom to whoever we recruit as the bar manager,” he explains. “Hopefully I will find the right person who can come in early at the start and have the chance to put their own stamp on things, including decisions on the kinds of wines we are serving.
“Some of our key lines will be in there and we’ll want some of the suppliers we work closely with to have a presence. So although there’ll be some overlap, I hope there’ll be some unique products too.”
Jones estimates that construction will take about two months. “So as it won’t be the summer, like every good house move, we’ll be in by Christmas,” he says.