‘we want to be the brewery of choice for people in leeds.’Back
In part one of our interview, co-founder and managing director of Leeds Brewery, Sam Moss, underlined his company’s commitment to Leeds: “To be able to carry Leeds on our pump badges is very important.” In our second and final part, Sam talks about something else that ties the brewery to the city: pubs.
“We just felt it was a really good site,” says Sam about Harper Street, the short run just between The Duck and Drake and Outlaws Yacht Club where what used to be Oliver Jake’s Fish and Chip Shop is now home to the sixth Leeds Brewery pub, Crowd of Favours. “We look round quite a lot of places and most of them are just not right for one reason or another. Harper Street is an area which is really going in the right direction, there are big plans for Kirkgate eventually – when the council get round to that, we will see, but there are plans! – but Kirkgate, that whole row is listed, so at some point that will all be done and it will be a great little area of Leeds that is still city centre, but somehow feels a bit more cosmopolitan. And when we walked round the site, even when it still had all the fish and chip shop stuff in there, it just felt like a good site. We’re pleased with the result.
“We’re always looking for opportunities, because pubs are one of the key things that we do, and always have been right from the very beginning. We raised the money to open the brewery and the Midnight Bell at the same time, so it has not been an afterthought – you know, the brewery’s doing okay, let’s open some pubs – the two have always gone hand in hand.”
Like carrying the name of Leeds on their pump badges and bottles, Sam sees pubs as a way of embedding the brewery into the city. The pub locations have been a mix so far of sure-fire city centre locations like The White Swan at City Varieties, and places more towards the fringes, waiting for the city to come and find them, like The Midnight Bell, which has the Holbeck Urban Village slowly growing around it; and The Garden Gate in Hunslet which, should the trolleybus project go ahead, would have a stop a minute’s walk away.
“I think there’s probably quite a lot of luck in that,” says Sam. “Certainly with The Garden Gate we didn’t have any idea about the trolleybus. The Garden Gate is just the most fantastic pub – it was going to close, it would have had metal grills on the windows, it quite possibly would have gone to rack and ruin. We’d gone in there for a pint and we thought, ‘We’ve got to do something to save this pub.’ Twenty years ago if that pub had been in danger Tetley’s would have bought it, and that is important for us, because we want to be the brewery of choice for people in Leeds.
“It’s not all about business – that’s a big part of it, of course we’ve got to make enough money to pay everyone’s wages – but it’s also about being a part of the community, about being part of the city. We are the flag carrier of Leeds Brewery. Our two flagship brands are Leeds Pale and Leeds Best. The city is at the heart of everything that we do, and we’ve been very, very lucky with the reception that we’ve got from people who live in Leeds since we opened. We’ve had an enormous amount of support, so for us to be able to save The Garden Gate from closure, to protect it for the future, and just to look after it – whilst at the same time hopefully turning it back into a great pub – that was very important.”
The Garden Gate and Crowd of Favours show how Leeds Brewery’s expansion is led as much by feeling as by hard-nosed business sense – “If we don’t find a decent site over the next five years, we won’t open any more pubs,” says Sam – as does the length of time it has taken the company to go ‘home’ with its seventh pub.
“We have just signed the lease for York – we signed the lease on Thursday. The plan is that we will open in September, with a provisional working title of The Duke of York. That will be our first venture outside Leeds, but it’s a great site – Michael [Brothwell, co-founder of Leeds Brewery] and I were at university in York, Michael still lives in York, we know the city very well, so we’ve been looking for a site in York for some time. It’s a brilliant site and it will be a great pub, we’re very excited about that.”
There’s one thing it won’t do, though. “It probably won’t do fondue!” says Sam. “No, fondue is a Crowd of Favours concept – which is working very well actually, we’re selling a lot of fondue. We wanted something that was a bit quirky, a bit interesting. It’s important that not all of the pubs are the same, and we wanted something a bit retro and a bit different – the fondue idea was Michael’s actually and he’s been very keen on it, but it’s going really well.
“But that’s one of the nice things about being an independent operator, is that we can tailor our pubs to their individual qualities and characters, to the individual feeling on the site, which bigger operations tend either not to be able to do, or not to want to do. They’ve got a formula, it works, and they’re going to bloody well make sure that it works in whichever building that they find. Our way is quite hard work: it would be much easier for us to standardise all our menus, standardise all our drinks ranges, have staff uniforms, it would be much easier and probably a bit cheaper, but we don’t want to do that.”
Although their pub empire is growing, with one pub for every year they’ve been in business, Sam and the brewery still thrive from the personal involvement their independence – and their ethos – brings.
“Opening pubs is the best thing,” says Sam. “It’s an enormous amount of fun – it’s enormously stressful, but it’s an enormous amount of fun. It’s something that we like. Particularly taking a building that has never been a pub before, and walking in as the first person into that site, and knowing that you can make this into a really good pub, that you can go in and convert it and create jobs: that’s something that’s really exciting. It’s good fun coming up with the plans, it’s like brewing new beer, that’s always the fun part, and then you’ve got to actually make it a reality and that’s always a bit more difficult. But it’s always good fun.”
More from The City Talking:
about a year ago
Leeds’ new multi-million pound trolleybus scheme is pressing ahead as planned. John Baron presents some of the arguments for and against the scheme and asks: What do you think?