Business is in David Stein and his sister Kirstie’s blood – the brother and sister team not only run an award-winning butchers, David Stein Butchers in Bathgate – but also have an award-winning delicatessen and wine business, off-sales, a cafe and two further cafe-bar’s – 1912 in Bathgate and the most recently opened cafe-bar 1807 in Linlithgow, both of which are also award-winning!
I caught up with David, and manager Gary, at his Cafebar 1807 in Linlithgow. The bar, formerly The Auld Hole in the Wall, opened earlier this year, and has been transformed from a traditional drinking howff into a stylish bar and restaurant that would not look out of place in any city centre.
However, when it comes to David, the phrase “Butcher, baker, candlestick maker’ has resonance – because although he was brought up a son of a butcher, and still runs the butchers with his sister, he has spent the last 35 years as a printer. He explains, “I never wanted to be a butcher directly, but I would work at night as a printer and during the day I would concentrate on how to develop the family business.”
David opened his first small restaurant 15 years ago called The Cottage. He explains, “It was at the time of the celebrity chef and I opened it with a friend. The idea was to promote the butchers by selling great steaks there. It also allowed us to learn about the hospitality side of the business.”
That was one of the reasons that he and Kirstie opened Cafebar1912 in Bathgate five years ago. Says David, “It seemed like a natural progression. And a few of the people that we had working in the butchers came down and worked at the cafe. It has worked really well. Our Bathgate business is very successful.”
He is hoping to replicate that success with Cafebar 1807. It was a mutual business contact who suggested to the owner, Colin Hilditch of Hilditch Inns, that David might be a potential candidate to take on the lease.”
Says David, “Colin and I knew each other because our families have both run businesses in this area for more than 40 years. I thought we could really make a go of it and Colin gave us that opportunity. He also supplied with me all the info and just about gave me carte blanche with the venue, although he did request that we kept the bar in the same place, and I’m glad we did that now. It has become a real focal point.”
David continues, “It was a very traditional venue which showed sports, but our idea was to make it user friendly. We are free of tie and now we are the first pub in West Lothian to sell Paolozzi lager on draught, and we also sell a lot of Moretti. They have never let me down. When it comes to spirits we keep it premium and I am also fussy about our coffee which I think is the best around – Cafe Milano.”
His manager Gary adds, “I worked for the previous owner, and the transformation has been amazing. For instance, in the past, we always had door stewards on the door at the weekend. When David told us his plans for the venue, I wasn’t sure that we would get away with not having door stewards on… but he was right. As soon as we opened as Cafebar1807 and people realised that it was quite different with table service, a contemporary look and a focus on food, the regulars moved on quite naturally.”
Says David, “We wanted to make the bar contemporary, with a more European feel, and of course, we wanted it to be female friendly.” He adds, “We did all the interior fit-out ourselves. From picking the paint to making the tables. Although we did bring in a sound engineer to put the sound system in and a fabricator to do the metalwork.”
The cafebar, which David says is on the best site in West Lothian, has a window area with a waist-high bench which allows people to sit and enjoy a drink while the world walks by. David explains, “If you sit people in the window it makes the place look busy, but these are also seats which people really like because they can see everything that’s going on.”
The bar which was traditional mahogany has been painted pale grey and a modern metal shelving unit which is used to hang glassware on, while the wood panelling has all been painted a similar light colour. Immediately in front of the bar, there is a wooden floor with table and chairs where people can dine, and where they can sit with their dogs.
The dog-friendly aspect is important. Says David, “In Bathgate, we tried to introduce a dog-friendly culture after a couple of years, but when we surveyed our customers the idea got a 50/50 response. So we didn’t go with it, but when we opened here we decided to make it friendly from the get-go, and that has really worked. We don’t allow dogs in after 7ish and we also keep them off the carpeted area, but that apart, they are welcome. And really with this being such a dog walking area, it was only sensible. Before we opened there were only two bars in Linlithgow who took dogs. Now pretty much every pub here is dog-friendly. When I was building this place, I was watching thousands of people walking their dogs so it was really a no-brainer.”
Certainly on the day I was there, four dogs were comfortably seated with their respective owners who were enjoying lunch, (the owners, that is)!
David is delighted with the way the business has developed at Cafe 1807. He tells me, “When I walk in here on a Saturday night I get goosebumps, because it is running just the way I like it. When I walk through the door I want to see certain things – I want the music and lighting to be right and I want to see the staff moving about in the right way. He explains, “I go all over the place – Manchester, Liverpool, London you name it and I am always looking at the way things are run and what they look like. But honestly, when I walk in here on a Saturday night I know that we have got it right. We are also fortunate that we can supply the meat from our very own butchers – having good produce is the holy grail of the restaurant business, and we are very fortunate in that our supply chain is excellent. We’ve also got the added benefit of being able to manage our portion control because it comes prepared that way directly from the Butcher.”
Another practice that has stood David in good stead with the hospitality side of the businesses is good hygiene practice. He says, “Scottish butchers are the most highly regulated for hygiene in the whole of Europe, and we have continued this ethos in our cafebars.”
But perhaps the biggest difference with David and Kirstie’s businesses is that they have been taking care of customers for 40 years. As a result, customer service comes naturally and they try to impart this to their staff with ongoing training. Says David, “I think our customer service really is what makes us stand out from our competitors. We’ve taken the customer service ethos from our butchers and deli and tweaked it a bit. We don’t muck about if a customer has a complaint – whether we are in the wrong or not – they don’t pay. It’s not worth ruining our reputation for the price of a meal. People complain in threes – one thing goes wrong but they need to find another two things to justify it. I have a saying… ‘Glad, sorry, sure… I’m glad you told us and I’m sorry it happened, but I’m sure we can fix it’.”
He continues, “To be honest, I man and operate my bars the way I would like to be served, and I like good service. Before we opened here , we really trained our staff – we put them into Bathgate and as I use the same till system and same booking system there as here and despite the first three weeks being chaos here as the customers and staff got used to the new place, the staff were brilliant. Gary and Kieran, the other manager, have really helped too and have helped grow the business here. Gary adds, “I can honestly say the staff we now have here are the best team of people that I have worked with.”
If being a butcher, bar and restaurant operator and printer were not enough to keep him busy, David is also a former singer in a rock band and as a result, he puts on a lot of live music in both his venues. Says David, “We put on more than 300 gigs a year! I’ve only three rules… no backing tracks, no Oasis and no Coldplay.”
Going forward, David is already on the lookout for his next venue. He says, “Kirstie and I are partners but she very much concentrates on the butchers and off-sales side of the business and she has got very good at dealing with suppliers. She has a keen interest in gin – she’s become a bit of an expert. I used to do that, and that is how I got to know so many reps, but now I concentrate on the bar and restaurant side. I love it. But I don’t just like my own places, I love going to see other people’s places too. I’m definitely ready for another place now – and I am on the lookout.”
As well as being on the lookout for a new place the team are celebrating winning an Observer award. Says David, “As a small business, we like to enter awards and we have been very fortunate to win a few. Just recently we won an Observer food award, and it was the 5th year in a row that we reached the finals – in fact, we have more Observer awards than any other company in the UK.”
I cannot imagine these will be the only awards that David and Kirstie will pick up going forward.