Interviewing Unwined Bar Owners, Laura & Kiki
Kiki Evans and Laura Aitken started Unwined Bar in 2015. In an interview with LWC, they talk about their business and their take on pubs and bars in the UK.
It takes real know-how and guts to transform from a pop-up to two bars in the thriving bar scene in the UK’s capital city. Mates from years back Kiki Evans and Lauran Aitken have done just that. The theme of their bars is in the title ‘Unwined’ with a pun for good measure. Taking the snobbery out of wine, giving a great ‘bang for your buck’ and reading behind the label are just some of the ways in which to unwind in Unwined!
Tell us little more about Unwined?
Unwined is the permanent creation from our original pop-up business called A Grape Night In. We wanted to create a casual, friendly and unpretentious space for people to come and enjoy delicious wine! We now have 2 sites, Unwined in Tooting (south London) and Unwined in Waterloo.
Is the current economic environment good or tough for pubs and bars?
It is certainly a bit daunting with so many established businesses closing their doors over the past year and finding financial difficulties, but we are hoping our brand (which grew out of the pop-up revolution as a result of the economic crisis) fills a niche of affordable and unique experiences. The uncertainty surrounding Brexit is definitely a concern on our horizon though, with prices of wine set to surge yet again.
Even a small scale pub or bar has a million moving parts. How do you assert priorities and yet remain flexible to demand?
Haha, a good question! Our business has always been about our customers, (we wouldn’t be here without them!) so anything which effects customers and their experience gets priority. But truly it’s a juggling act - between suppliers and stock levels, staff rotas, day to day operations, and then we through into the mix bi-monthly changing pop-up chefs & menus, there’s always a list of things to keep us busy!
What are the top 5 priorities in running a great bar?
Priorities for us are
1) passion - so making sure staff are as excited about the products/service as we are, through training, menu tastings, research, etc.
2) welcoming faces - the worst thing is to walk into a bar, cafe or restaurant and feel like you’re an imposition to the staff, friendly faces are key
3) talking in plain English - especially in wine where there can be a lot of ‘wine speak’ this can be pretty important!
4) organisation - on our spaces which both have their storage challenges… the organisation is key for maintaining a (reasonably) smooth running ship
5) passion - I’m going to say it again because to be honest you don’t open a bar or restaurant for the money, you do it because you love it...
5 Which is most important beer, wine, spirits, non-alcoholic drinks?
For us as a wine bar, wine for sure is our most important.
What is the hottest drink trend amongst the Unwined customer base currently?
It’s hard to say as we change our wine by the glass selection every 2 months in line with the change of pop-up chef; so nothing is ever on a menu long enough to get bored with it! Also, we tend to not go for the classics, finding hidden gems or wines from off the beaten track, which really gives bang for their buck.
How important is it for suppliers to consider sustainability and environmental issues to pubs and bars?
It’s important for us personally and as business owners, but more and more we’re seeing customers are becoming more discerning due to environmental reasons too, for example, Paper Straws and good quality Bag in Box wine.
Pubs and bars are still closing at 18 per week (CAMRA Aug 2018) – do pubs have a long-term future in the UK?
I believe they do, but sometimes things need to be updated a little to the times. I love old rustic pubs, and their gritty charm - but clean beer lines with a good selection (not just the associated brewery’s), clean facilities, friendly knowledgeable staff are important in an age where customers are much more aware of food, trends and in essence have higher expectations.
Are pubs a place to have a drink or centre of a community?
I’d say the centre of the community, especially in London where it’s more socially acceptable to meet out than invite people back to your dingy flat. Take pubs away and there goes a social meeting point.
Recruitment seems to be a big issue in the UK hospitality sector. What strategies and tactics can you use to manage it?
It’s an issue all of my friends in hospitality have had to face over the last few years. In terms of kitchen staff, with our rotas of changing pop-up chefs, we’re embracing the turn towards chefs experimenting and trying out their own thing, which is what we did from a different angle (in terms of we’re front of house orientated). It’s important to keep staff motivated, challenged and inspired, which takes quite a lot of time and investment, and if you’re not willing to do this then there’ not much point in you hiring staff in the first place.
It is impossible to have suppliers turning up with deliveries every 5 minutes. How do you manage range and choice with a limited number of suppliers?
Goes back to our priorities or having to be organised… we have limited storage in both of our sites and we have to be very aware of our sales mix, trends and quantities available as we tend to use wines from small suppliers to. Our business model (bi-monthly changing wines btg) really plays into these challenges.
Will Alexa replace bar staff?
Haha, we’ll have to see! I think part of what people love about our space is human interaction, so I think we might be safe for a few months yet.
About the Author
The article is contributed by Alistair Morrell, Wine Inspector, wine industry consultant, journalist and, commentator. Over 30 years as a wine business professional, Alistair shares his global knowledge, network, and experience of growers, importers, distributors and buyers.