Frome Welcomes The Stores

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Sarah Helliwell and Abi Tregenza launched their new venture in Frome just before Christmas. 

The Stores, situated on Stony Street, has a range of around 200 wines as well as a cheese counter. Helliwell is a familiar face on Stony Street as she has spent the last few years working at the neighbouring Eight Stony Street, the wine bar and restaurant owned by Kent Barker, which has now closed.

“Kent and I worked together for nearly eight years,” says Helliwell, “and he’s always known I wanted to do this. We talked about it a lot and it’s all been very amicable and supportive.”

She adds: “Abi and I became friends over 10 years ago while working together at Jascots. She moved back to Somerset during lockdown. As we were having dinner one day, I told her my plans and she said she wasn’t that keen to go back to work in London after taking maternity leave. 

“Going completely on your own is pretty scary, so having someone there with me who understands the wine industry as well as she does is really important. We’re friends, and we know we work well together.”

“We’ve really enjoyed learning about cheese and we’ve been on a couple of courses at The Academy of Cheese.

“Customers can buy from the counter to take away or they can choose a cheese board to enjoy with a glass of wine. We’ve got olives, bread and oil, so things to go with wine, but no cooked food as such,”

“We will start to get some things booked in with a few people who we want to work with to do a pop-up supper club, where chefs will bring in food and we can pair the wines.”

Currently there is capacity for 12 covers and room to grow in the future. “We’ve got a big space out the back which is our prep and storage area,” explains Helliwell, “but if things go well, we will convert that and open up for more tables and maybe another collection of wine too.

“The idea is to keep our wine range really fluid so when we sell out of something we’ll probably swap it out for something else. We’ve got six or seven major suppliers and a few that we’ve bought little bits and pieces from, and some comes direct from local vineyards.  

“We have five wines by the glass that are open and, again, we’re changing those weekly at the moment. There’s just the two of us, so it’s really just as and when what feels right, and what people want and what we want to showcase.”

Meanwhile, Kent Barker explains that Eight Stony Street, which he established in 2019, had been “heavily affected by a downturn in customer spending in the restaurant and bar area”, resulting in a re-evaluation of the entire operation. 

“The wine merchant side actually works quite well,” he says. “But it is part of a bigger thing and if the bigger thing isn’t working so well, or being a bit of a pain, then it doesn’t work.”

Barker owns the freehold of the building and has found a tenant, so is ready to move on to his next project. 

“It’s a good move because actually I make more money renting it out than I will operating in it, without any of the hassle,” he says. 

Barker runs Wilding, his restaurant bar and wine shop in Oxford, and says his next venture, for which he has already potentially found premises, will be “very much more wine merchant and less restaurant”.

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