Bottle and Board owners hoping for a 2021 to celebrate
Eddie and I used to run a stall in Borough Market in London, and we have a lot of connections with beer writers, suppliers and so forth - it's a reason we wanted to be in the city centre here, because it's 48 minutes to London and we would attract more people here.
And of course if you go to the beer festival you get off the train station and walk past here. We decided to open a bottle shop here - London is swamped with them, but Peterborough has a great beer heritage and would say there's more people into beer here than other areas.
In the fridge are American IPAs, some British brewers - Kernel from London and Fallon, which is a Scottish brewery. We've got some local brewers such as Mile Tree, who is fantastic, and bottles from Iceni Meadery, which we've now taken down for people to sell at Borough Market. Hogan's Cider from Shropshire - we don't have too many ciders as we're a beer shop. We've got a Belgian and German fridge, and at the moment we haven't been too badly affected by Brexit.
The taps are obviously closed at the moment, but the idea when we're fully opened is that if people want to drink in they pick a beer from the fridge, bring it over and we serve it for you, or you go for something on tap. Some would have a couple before they decide what they want to buy, rather than it being a pub. The board part of our name refers to charcuterie boards, which we'll also offer.
We opened on April 4 last year - we had the licence on February 14 and the set up started. Our target was to open on March 25 but then lockdown happened, but because we are an off-licence we could open - and because everything was in place we decided to go ahead with it.
That meant there were a lot of things we were intending to do that we couldn't, like having a grand opening.
Our plan originally was to have an Easter festival in April, and then in May CAMRA had a campaign named Make Mine a Mild in May, so we intended to have a nod to them and get milds in.
In June we were planning to be low-key, and then in July an American Beer Festival. In August there's the Embankment beer festival, so we figured even if we got 5% of the people attending would be good. People would get off the train, perhaps go to the Bumble Inn and then the Ostrich and Stoneworks, through to us and then Charters, and on to the festival. We had even planned mini breakfasts.
It was all going to be fantastic, but obviously none of that happened. The taps were only fitted in September, because a lot of tradesmen weren't working during lockdown. We weren't helped by the fact that two days after they were fitted a massive crane arrived opposite for work, which was pumping fumes into our shop. We ended up just opening at 4pm because we knew customers wouldn't enjoy it otherwise.
We did have a very low-key Octoberfest which did do really well - the customers were brilliant and all adhered to the rules. We did bratwursts and a German sausage supplier in London helped us.
The full opening was in October and we'd been growing which was really encouraging - and then we had another lockdown. We were originally told by licensing that we had to close, even though we were open last time; in effect we have two licenses, for 'on' and 'off' licence.
So we contacted Paul Bristow for clarification on whether we could stay open, and he was very quick to help - providing the on-sales wasn't used. The first couple of weeks of November were confusing because people didn't know we were open, or whether we should open, or whether they had to pre-order.
Christmas was interesting, and not one we would expect.
Usually at Christmas you do so well that it will carry you through for the first few months of the next year, and we'd ordered in massive amounts of gift packs and a brochure so people could pre-order. On December 19 we had our busiest day, but in general it was very quiet. There was still quite a lot of fear.
Financially it has been difficult, but yesterday we were finally told that we would get a small grant, the AFG grant. But I've really had to fight for it. We've been lucky in that Jay Wheeler from PCC, who is trying to set up cafe culture here and which I think will be great, came to see how we were.
We said we had problems and he called in a couple of councillors who got in touch with those dealing with business rates to ask what was going on - because we're kind of both a shop and a pub, there were issues. However one grant came through and they are looking at other bits of support - anything would be helpful.
For 2021 we have a business plan that we haven't managed to use yet! So it will be exactly what we planned to do last year.
Eddie and I have taken the view that we should have things in place and that we're ready to do them. It looks lovely with the benches and umbrellas outside, and people love it - people can park opposite and pick up beers.
One of the lucky things is that we've only ever traded through a pandemic, so we don't know what our potential is - but we do know it can only be bigger and better.
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