Opening a micropub in a COVID pandemic

Picture this, you’ve finally taken the plunge to open your very own micropub. After months of hard grafting you’ve got your planning and licensing applications approved. You’ve got a potential property lined up and have been hard at work sourcing the best ale suppliers in the area. Only for it all to come crumbling down due to the fractious UK property market and not being able to sell your own property in time to secure the deal on the prospective micropub property.

Never mind you say. Chin up. Keep calm and carry on. You try again. Start looking at alternative areas. You look at lots of other properties in areas you’ve never considered before and finally found the right place. Right market. Right location. So here you go again. You go through the motions, knowing at least a bit more than you did last time. This all feels right. This time it’s going to be different. Planning applications at the ready and then…Coronavirus. Boris telling pubs to shut immediately. Lockdown imminent. Well this is a great time to open a micropub!

This is exactly what happened to Cheryl and Mark with their latest venture, the Three Bs. You may recall us speaking to them back in December 2018 when they were excitedly getting ready to open The Pepper Pot micropub and rooms, optimistically aiming for an opening in February 2019. Well you’ll be glad to hear the Three Bs is open and trading and doing very well. We caught up with Cheryl to find out how they got here.

UKM: It’s probably a bit of a sore point, but we need to get the elephant out of the room – what happened to the Pepper Pot?

Cheryl: Unfortunately the “Pepper Pot” did not go ahead as we just could not get the sale of our house completed. The guys who owned the property in Ulverston waited a considerable time, but as they are a registered charity, they just couldn’t go on waiting, and in the end, we had to take a big decrease in the price we were able to ask for our property due to the finding of the invasive Japanese Knotweed on neighbouring land which then frightened a lot of would be buyers away, despite us getting an insurance backed guarantee with a specialist firm. This in turn meant that we would not in any case be able to go ahead with buying the property that was to be “Pepper Pot”.

UKM: What happened in between the final decision of the Pepper Pot not going ahead and you deciding to have another go at it with the Three Bs?

Cheryl: Following the decision that was effectively forced on to us, we were determined that we would find an alternative place to start our dream of running a micropub. We did not know where it would be, but decided that to get more property for our money, it might be better to look northwards! We scouted around lots of places, such as Bispham, Scarborough, Workington, Morecambe, Skegness, Fleetwood, Cleethorpes and of course Bridlington, where we are now. We found quite a few properties we liked in Bridlington, but still we had the issue of not being able to sell our house in Birmingham. We eventually “went to the devil” and sold our house to a property buying person, for almost 100k less than it is worth, or what we originally “sold” for. 

UKM: What made you choose that location of the Three Bs?

Cheryl: On our scouting mission, we looked in the area to see if it would be viable for us to “set up shop”. Looking to see how much, if any, real ales and ciders were being sold by pubs, how many of the pubs were still open and what the demographics and census data was for the areas. We know that competition can be healthy, and that micropubs can work “alongside” each other in the right area, but too many can work against you also. It also helps to be up to date with any regeneration of towns that councils are doing, and the likelihood of being able to succeed in obtaining planning and licensing permissions. To this end, Bridlington just “felt right” and appeared to be friendly, lacking in real ale destination pubs, although a couple of them “try” and there wasn’t a “true micropub” here. 

UKM: How was the planning application process this time around?

Cheryl: The planning application for the micropub was not a walk in the park this time either. Plans had to be submitted several times, to get the drawings sorted. As we were still in Birmingham at the start of the process we were using the local library to scan drawings across, but somehow the scales were altering on sending. It took quite a while for the planning team to see what was happening, but we got them in eventually. We had to get our sale and acquisition working alongside each other to finalise things, and this took a while. THEN, Coronavirus struck!! We were being sent to planning committee due to the request of a councillor, set for April 6th. We were holding frequent conversations and emails with the planning officer assigned to us. We waited with baited breath – would the “virtual meeting” go ahead or not?! It did, and we got our consent!!

UKM: What was your hopes for the Three Bs before the dreaded COVID showed its face?

Cheryl: We were hoping to get the works done and hold an opening bash when we were ready. Unfortunately we aren’t able to have customers inside for drinking and socialising, but at least we are able to sell take out beer in 2 and 4 pint cartons, and do delivery within Bridlington. The work we needed to be able to do this was quite minimal, but we managed to get the materials needed and we opened for business on 30th April! We still look forward to being able to open properly and we will have the opening bash eventually. 

UKM: Could you tell me a bit more around timelines with what happened when? At which stage did the COVID situation hit you?

Cheryl: The Covid situation struck before we had our planning application through. It didn’t stop us, thankfully, getting it passed, and we were lucky enough to have less work to be able to open for take-out and delivery. Of course we are not taking as much money as we hope to take when we are open properly, but we have been received well and have a few regulars ordering from us, and surprisingly still have new people turning up, not knowing we have been here and open since April.

UKM: What were your first thoughts when the government first announced the lockdown measures, especially that fateful night in March when they basically said pubs have to shut ASAP?

Cheryl: That fateful night in March, just happened to be my birthday!! The builders had been working at the house we bought for the first week, and gone home for the weekend. We had only move to Bridlington on March 2nd, so everything was upside down and we didn’t get to visit places or do anything before we were in lockdown. We had applied for off sales on our licence, and this was the way forward. We had to get the pub sorted quicker, just to get some income as well!

UKM: So what have you been doing for the last few months with the Three Bs and how have you been getting customers during the lockdown?

Cheryl: We have been doing off sales and delivery within Bridlington since April 30th. We have had advertising through our Facebook and twitter accounts and also paid for some leaflets to be distributed in 2 large postcode areas of Bridlington. Having introduced ourselves to quite a few of the local brewers, we have been able to get 9’s of cask beers and bag in box of cider from Colemans Cider, a local producer. We are in the town circuit so with essential shops being open and us being near, we also have the luxury of a sandwich board outside of the pub, which can catch the eye, also a local bus passes us quite regularly, so people have seen us and come to find us.

UKM: How successful has the take-away/off-licence been would you say?

Cheryl: There is only ourselves that have provided an off sales service for real ales and ciders in Bridlington. The Expanse Hotel has the Marine bar which started doing some bottles, lager or John Smiths for a week or so, but nothing else. It has gone down well, we think, only been asked for Budweiser once, and asked if we sell lager a couple of times!! We will still continue with off sales when we are fully open, as has always been our intention, including on our licensing application from the beginning.

UKM: Where are you currently sourcing your beer from and has it been easy enough to get stock in?

Cheryl: We have been sourcing our casks of 9 gallons from local brewers and breweries : Brass Castle, Raven Hill, North Riding, Great Newsome and Half Moon. Cider in bags 20L from Colemans Cider Company and as of this week we have also had Dudda’s Tun cider. We have deliveries from them all as we request them and seemingly only we have casks delivered. 

UKM: Presumably you have not been able to apply for any of the hospitality grants, have you taken advantage of any of the other measures of financial support that was made available by the government?

Cheryl: In a word, no, the only monies we have is what we make from sales. We are probably quite lucky in the fact that we own both our properties outright, so have no mortgage or rent to pay, but it is a bit tough at present. We are surviving though.

UKM: So how has things been now since the 4th of July? What did you think of the government’s announcement to the hospitality trade? Are you open and how have you found trade in general?

Cheryl: We were waiting for the go ahead to open to customers inside, but as a lot of others, we wish the Government had given a bit more notice, as obviously the brewers and breweries need time to get beers ready.

A lot of media interest, we had Humberside Radio, Viking  FM radio, Channel Five news TV, and BBC Look North interviews. 

Trade is a bit slow at the moment, more so in the evenings after 8pm as we guess that people are still dubious about coming out. A good few regulars and day trippers are finding us on the Real Ale Finder app and our following on Facebook and Twitter is ever growing.

We now have 4 ever changing beers on hand pump and 10 real ciders. Today we changed all 4 beers having sold through 4 previous beers. 

I am making our bar snacks, selling quite well today. Quiche, sausage rolls, filled rolls, French bread pizza. 

We have done “Risk Assessment” for Covid. We have 1 meter plus distancing in pub which gives us 3 tables downstairs and 3 upstairs with 4, 3 and 2 chairs at each table respectively. Hand wash is at the door to be used before being invited to a table. Table service only. Contactless payment preferred, but cash can be taken. Full menus at every table. Tables and chairs sanitised after customers leave EVERY TIME. Clear guidance that customers are to remain seated unless using lavatory or leaving the premises.

UKM: Impossible question under the COVID situation but looking towards the future, where do you see the Three Bs next year this time?

Cheryl: Hopefully a thriving business with quite a large return trade. We have day-trippers come to see us at present, but hopefully we will attract holidaymakers and tourists too. Alongside the Three B’s Micropub, we will also have at that time Three B’s Rooms!! As per our Ulverston plan, we shall have a 3 room bed and breakfast at our home. Our home and B & B site is a different location to the bar, but is probably about 5 minutes’ walk from the Micropub, and just 2-3 minutes from South Beach.  We already have quite a large following from our Facebook and twitter accounts, and hope to have the same following and return trade from our rooms. 

UKM: Well thanks Cheryl, it really sounds like you guys have been through the ringer but came out stronger at the end. We wish the Three B’s all the best for the future.

Well there you have it, it takes passion, commitment and sheer grit sometimes to get your micro up and running, but as Cheryl and Mark have shown if you are willing to put the effort in, and make some sacrifices along the way anything is possible, even opening up a micropub in the middle of COVID-19.

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