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Building a hospitality group: Big Red Teapot

Published:  29 November, 2016

Eight years after launching their first venture, Hamilton's Bar and Kitchen, Edinburgh-based hospitality group Big Red Teapot has just opened the doors to its fourth bar, The Voyage of Buck.

Harpers caught up with co-founder Martin Luney to find out what it takes to enter the highly competitive world of hospitality and to build an empire from the ground up. 

1. So what's this "Big Red Teapot" all about then?

When my business partner Colin Church and I first got together to plan our joint venture, we drank a lot of wine and didn't get much done. So we decided to switch to drinking lots of tea (which we still do, by the pint) from a big red teapot, and hey presto! That was it. 

We met, I was more involved in the food side of things having trained as a chef and Colin the drinks. We both had different, complementary skill sets and we saw a gap in the market for a bar that was just as strong as it was in food as it was with drinks. So I guess we inspired one another.

2. How important is the idea of creating a brand when creating venues with different personalities?

This is really important to me as I think when you are part of the independent bar scene it is imperative to have a strong brand identity to ensure that you stand out. We also very much believe in having fun when creating a brand as this filters through to the final product and ultimately we want our customers to have fun!

It also gives you a focus whether it is on the design, being creative with the drinks or food - it focuses you on your end goal. For us having four different bar brands is important because they are each located in very different parts of the city and the brand reflects that.

3. At the Voyage of Buck food and drink receive equal billing. What led yopu to this decision and how do you find a balance?

We felt that there were a lot of pubs offering pub food or bars offering small bites or street food style dishes that there was an opportunity for bars offering an equal billing to food and drink.

It also came about quite naturally as I came to the business with a foodie hat on whilst Colin's hat was firmly drinks and we both wanted to bring a bit of what we were both experts in.

We find balance by listening and taking the lead from our kitchen and bar teams on what is current and new and giving them an equal chance to shine either behind the bar or in the kitchen. We spend equal amounts of time creating our food menus as we do our drinks menus.

Martin Luney and Colin Church of Big Red TeapotMartin Luney and Colin Church of Big Red Teapot

4. What are the key considerations for you when setting up a new venue?

We always think first about the bar's geographical location and how it fits into it. We look at what the bars and restaurants around us are doing and try to do something completely different.

We also consider our staff very carefully and match staff to the type of customers we would like to attract to the bar. Design is also one of our key considerations, again we like the interior design (which we always do ourselves) to fit into the environment or location that the bar is in. So the Voyage of Buck is in a smart part of town with lots of high-end boutiques and therefore the interior reflect that with a slightly more glamorous feel than our one in Tollcross, The Blackbird, which attracts a lot of students due to its location.

5. How do you go about putting together a drinks menu and what do suppliers need to do to guarantee your business?

We choose our suppliers first, agree financial support with them and negotiate the number of cocktails they have on our list. We like brands that are on trend, represented by people we want to work with and that complement our brands. We tend to have a mix of premium spirits and lower price point liqueurs or we make our own liqueurs and syrups to keep the final price down for the customer.

Making our own grenadine, coconut orgeat and infusions etc. also shows off the skills of our bartenders. To guarantee our business suppliers need to have a good price point and portfolio to choose from. They also need to be able to match volume when it comes to deliveries.

6. What are the key drivers changing the hospitality industry at the moment?

People are more sophisticated in their tastes when going out now and expect good food and good drinks. Gone are the years of microwaved food in pubs and bars, and post the gastro pub phenomenon people expect better quality food in these establishments.

We have also found that our customers are much more adventurous than they used to be, trying new foods and drinks such as craft beers. And luckily for us the consumer is choosing local and independent businesses over chains where they know they are getting locally sourced food and even locally sourced drinks now.