Licensee Interview: The Beer Kitchen Dynamo

May 1st, 2017 | Posted in:

David Hall is one of the most experienced operators in the Scottish hospitality industry, although generally it could be said that he likes to fly under the radar! However, at the rate he is developing the Innis & Gunn pub division, that is already changing. As Managing Director, he has helped the group expand its Beer Kitchen concept into four cities in two years! The business is a joint venture between Innis & Gunn and G1, but it is very much David’s baby and he has negotiated equity and a shareholding in the business too.

He explains, “Dougal Sharp and I have been friends since we were young. Although we didn’t go to school together we had a common group of friends. In 2008, I had looked at a business of my own, which fell through at the 11th hour. In hindsight, this was a good thing because it was right at the start of the recession. Dougal knew about this, and he kept in touch. Then a few years ago he followed up, and we got the ball rolling. I knew I could deliver something fresh. Since I knew Dougal, I dealt with the Financial Director over the financial negotiations. It makes a massive difference having a share in it.”

However, it was while living in Aberdeen, as a young man, that he first fell in love with the hospitality business. He tells me, “I lived in Aberdeen and my first holiday job was doing the dishes at the Tor-Na-Coille Hotel in Banchory, then I worked a summer as a waiter and went behind the bar at 18 at the Albyn and then Dizzy’s. It was 1990 and my boss was Tracy Lefevre she taught me to work hard and party harderand showed me what fun the trade could be. I loved it. So I decided to do a hospitality degree at Robert Gordon and got a part-time job with Ricky Simpson. He was opening Aberdeen’s first American-styled cocktail bar Charlie’s (he had called it Charlie Browns, but had to change it!). Charlie’s was a great success and I just loved the buzz of the place. We had some great fun.”

David moved on from Charlie’s to work for the Pierre Victoire franchise in the city, which gave him more responsibility and which saw him learn about management. Then it was time for a step-change and he took off travelling. First stop was Vancouver Island in Canada where he embraced the country’s service culture and cocktails, before taking off to Australia.

He says, “I worked at The Beechwood, a trendy bar/ restaurant, that had not long opened on Bondi Beach. I was a waiter, I was supposed to be backpacking, but the owners asked me to open Liberty Lunch, an oyster bar and live music venue. It was an amazing experience and I was enjoying it so much that I stayed on longer than I expected to. I got to know a lot of bartenders and could get into just about any bar or club in Sydney – it was great and I even considered staying there because I fell in love with the city. But I finally decided to join the rest of my friends and we all travelled on to New Zealand, before returning to Aberdeen.”

It was at this point that David made what was to be a life-changing decision. “I thought what will I do now? I knew that I liked working in style bars and thought who is the best company in Scotland to work for? At that time, everyone was talking about Montpeliers, who were in the process of opening Indigo Yard so I applied for a job there. The job I actually got was as Deputy Manager at Montpeliers and my General Manager was Peter Wilson. It was a lucky break because he protected me from myself. I still had the travel bug, but he kept me on the straight and narrow. He was just great and we remain friends to this day.”

From Montpeliers, David moved to Indigo Yard, before leaving the company for a year to join Big Beat. But he only stayed a year there before returning to the Montpeliers fold where he stayed until two and a half years ago. Says David, “I came back help open Rick’s, then moved onto Opal Lounge and then Tigerlily. They were all massive projects particularly Tigerlily. Working for David Wither ingrained in me how important systems, procedures and standards are. He taught me always to strive to be as good as you can, and not to be complacent. In hospitality, you can take your foot off the gas but when you do, standards drop.” He continues, “Obviously over the years, I’ve also taken on board other influences, but the great thing about working for Montpeliers, apart from the people that I met, was that it also taught me the importance of balance. To weigh up the commercial versus quality angle. If you overdo the controls, you can take away from service and if you get too tight, you can take away from the quality. For instance, here at the Beer Kitchen, we use Shaw’s Butchers, they are a family owned company that provides quality meat – it is excellent, but we have to make the price work for us.”

All the Beer Kitchen properties are leasehold. David expands, “Everything we do is a lease. (All of the bars are located in G1 owned properties.) We need the cash at the moment to grow the business, and if we put money into property that would not happen for us. That’s not our model at the moment. The great thing about the G1 involvement is that without them we could not have grown at the rate we have, and we get their back of house support.”

The first Beer Kitchen opened in Edinburgh two years ago. Guy Morgan of Morgan McDonnell provided the slick design while Diarmid Scott, Innis & Gunn’s in house Designer came up with the logos and overall branding. Explains David, “We spent ages choosing everything from the furniture to the cutlery. David Wither once said to me if you get the first one right, it sets you on the right path. So we spent a lot of time on the brand guidelines, and in all our units we have tried to stay true to them. The menus are not exactly the same, but the chefs do meet and share ideas.”

There are now three more Beer Kitchens across Scotland in Glasgow, St Andrews and Dundee and David travels between them. He tells me, “It’s great because I get to meet so many different people. That’s one of the things that I love about the job. We have over 100 staff now – full-time and part-time. It’s difficult recruiting good staff for the launches but we have open days – it cuts the length of time down when it comes to recruiting. What we are looking for are people who care. In my view, 90% of the industry is about caring, and 10% is about knowledge. Caring about customers is a fundamental skill. You can have great cooking, a great bar, great beer and food but if it is getting served by someone who doesn’t care, it takes away from the experience. I think we have a really good team here. I don’t mind if people make mistakes, although I like them to let me know and that they learn from them. There is nothing worse than someone calling you about something and you know nothing about it. I would prefer to know and then if we get a call, I can say, yes I know, we are handling it.”

And handling it he certainly is. Mind you with kids at 5, 3 and 1, his wife Tessa too is to be applauded. Tessa, says David, has been brilliant. “She looks after the kids, and doesn’t ever ask when I’m going to be home or complain. She knows this is important for us all.”

So with Glasgow already going like a fair, (the Glasgow launch has been the busiest yet) what’s next on the agenda? David finishes, “We are trying to find another site in Edinburgh or Glasgow in the city centre and we have plans to move South – perhaps Manchester. And with that, he sneaked a glance at his mobile phone and his till app which tells him how all his units are performing and smiled!


Star takes wine support to a new level

Mon 17th September 2018

Star Pubs & Bars has appointed a dedicated wine category buyer. A former wine buyer at Tesco, Roberta Neave’s remit is to increase the... Read more.

BELHAVEN BREWERY SCOOPS FOUR AWARDS

Mon 17th September 2018

Belhaven Brewery has won four awards at the 2018 World Beer Awards. Scotland’s oldest brewery which is set to mark its 300th birthday in 2... Read more.

Happy 50th Anniversary Connoisseurs Choice

Mon 17th September 2018

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of its ‘Connoisseurs Choice’ range, family-owned whisky creator Gordon & MacPhail has enhanced the... Read more.

REDCASTLE SPIRITS BRING RUM BACK TO ANGUS

Mon 17th September 2018

Redcastle Spirits has announced the pending launch of a Spiced Rum. The Angus-based firm has just created its Scottish & Caribbean Spice... Read more.

STUDENT DEAL FOR MOLSON COORS

Mon 17th September 2018

Brewer Molson Coors has won a new four year solus beer and cider supply deal with the student union purchasing consortium, Northern Services... Read more.

Sue Says

Mon 17th September 2018

Straight talking from our publisher…   It’s certainly been a full on four weeks – but you know me, I love being busy. It was ... Read more.

Design Focus: Nauticus, Edinburgh

Mon 17th September 2018

NAUTICUS 142 Duke Street, Edinburgh EH6 8HR Once upon a time there were three guys with one big dream: to open a bar in Leith that captured ... Read more.

Dip your toe into The Wine Spa

Mon 17th September 2018

The Wine Spa on Broughty Ferry’s Fort Street is the town’s smallest bar, according to licensee John Black. But, according to John, who a... Read more.

WALKABOUT BOOMERANGS BACK AFTER £1M REFURBISHMENT

Mon 17th September 2018

Glasgow’s Walkabout, on Renfield Street, has reopened following a million pound refurbishment over both floors. John Paul McMillan, Deputy... Read more.

Whyte & Mackay and Proximo create joint on-trade team

Fri 14th September 2018

Whyte & Mackay and Proximo Spirits have created a joint On Trade sales team. The combined portfolio now extends across the spectrum of p... Read more.

Buzzworks acquire Linlithgow site

Thu 13th September 2018

The sun rises in the east and Buzzworks Holdings is also on the rise in the east of Scotland after confirming the purchase of The Bridge Inn... Read more.

A Space Apart: Interview with SWG3’s Andrew Fleming-Brown and Meryl Gilbert

Thu 13th September 2018

ANDREW FLEMING-BROWN (AKA MUTLEY), 40, IS DIRECTOR OF GLASGOW’S SWG3. MERYL GILBERT, 32, IS PART OF THE SENIOR MANAGEMENT TEAM. JASON CADD... Read more.

Sturgeon outlines plans to reform Scottish business rates system

Tue 11th September 2018

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has just launched her Programme for Government 2018-19, underlining the Scottish Government’s ambitio... Read more.

JOIN THE EVOLUTION REVOLUTION

Tue 11th September 2018

Seventy-three years may seem like a lifetime…is a life time – our lifetime. Founded the year WWII ended, we have existed through some of... Read more.

INTRODUCING THE MACALLAN MASTERS OF PHOTOGRAPHY

Mon 10th September 2018

The Macallan has unveiled its next Masters of Photography edition in collaboration with Magnum Photos. Marking the seventh limited edition r... Read more.

Coca Cola buy Costa to adapt to changing tastes as sugary drinks sales slump

Mon 3rd September 2018

Coca-Cola is to buy the Costa coffee chain from owner Whitbread in a deal worth £3.9bn. Whitbread bought Costa,  the UK’s biggest c... Read more.

The Spiritualist brings new vibes to Aberdeen

Fri 31st August 2018

Signature Pubs, the group behind Copper Blossom in Edinburgh and Church on the Hill in Glasgow, has opened The Spiritualist at 67 Langstane ... Read more.

New Scotts Restaurant Takes Shape

Wed 29th August 2018

Buzzworks’ Scotts bar and restaurant at Port Edgar Marina in South Queensferry is near to completion. The venue is Buzzworks Holdings... Read more.

DOUGLAS LAING ANNOUNCE NAME OF NEW GLASGOW DISTILLERY AND WHISKY

Tue 28th August 2018

Douglas Laing & Co’s new Distillery in Glasgow is to be named the ‘Clutha Distillery’. ‘Clutha’, meaning Clyde in Gaelic, ... Read more.

New Gin School launches

Tue 28th August 2018

Isle of Skye Distillers has announced the launch of its brand-new gin school The Portree-based distillery, producers of Misty Isle Gin and T... Read more.