Questions for Bar Owners: What it Takes to Run a Great UK Pub or Bar?
Kristina Issa, Owner of the Prosecco House in London Explains What Efforts a Great UK Pub or Bar Requires.
Prosecco House at One Tower Bridge is a newly opened bar with an iconic address. It opened in early 2018 by Kristina Issa a former City of London worker in finance.
She now employs 5 people and focuses on stocking and selling high-quality DOCG Prosecco with 28 on her list. She spent half an hour talking with me about what it is like to run a bar in London currently.
In an interview, Kristina shares her important opinions on running a great UK pub or bar.
Tell us little more about Prosecco House?
Prosecco House is the first bar in London dedicated to Prosecco.
Kristina: It is a small bar with the iconic address of 1 Tower Bridge.
Prosecco is much loved by British people and we bring a better quality of Prosecco and only sell DOCG. I have sourced and work directly with 5 wineries, visiting the owners personally. We have 10 pages of Prosecco from our main growers who we import from and a limited selection from, which we buy from 3 UK suppliers.
Our imported Proseccos are brought into a bonded warehouse. They are all stored there and then delivered on to us from there.
Is the current economic environment good or tough for pubs and bars?
Kristina: I have never been in this industry before but I think that it is tough. I think most people don’t appreciate how difficult it is to run a bar and business.
I hope that BREXIT won’t affect the business.
The disparity in duty is not something that most people understand. Still wines are much cheaper than sparkling because of the duty and then the bottles have to brought into the UK, storage, transport, administration all paid and then transported to London. This last bit is particularly expensive.
The pound is already very low. I have been working in this country for 20 years and this is the lowest it has ever been. If it falls even further then I will have to put up the prices, which will not please the customers. There is a lot of investment in the business and the rents are the biggest overhead. All I can do is ask for the understanding of the London customers. And hope that they still come.
Even a small scale pub or bar has a million moving parts. How do you assert priorities and yet remain flexible to demand?
Kristina: Extremely good staff is the key. The first few months I was there every night.
We only opened in February and we now have an excellent manager and a supervisor, which makes things much easier.
I used to work in the City for 10 years and am very familiar with spreadsheets and use them to plan. They are an extremely useful tool.
What are the top 5 priorities in running a great bar?
Kristina: Customer satisfaction
The superior quality of the product
I am happy
And the overall experience
Is Prosecco sustainable as a category?
Kristina: Yes – people under-estimate what Prosecco is. The UK market was not really provided for by good quality Prosecco. A lot of people were going into pubs and restaurants in London and paying £6.50 for the cheapest one.
At Prosecco House the price is £8.50 -£9.50 – they come and taste the quality and different styles of Prosecco.
Dry, very dry, flowery fruity – there are many different styles of Prosecco, which we explain in person and on our list.
So yes I still expect Prosecco House to be here in 10 years time
Constant improvement is a key part of our business. Even the perfect place there are always issues, so we are always improving what we offer. I believe that is why we have customers coming back from all over the world, for example, Sweden and USA.
What does a good supplier to Prosecco House look like?
Kristina: I have great relationships with the 5 wineries that we import. They are small family businesses, who we get on with very well.
We have a great cocktail list – sometimes people like to change their drink/ change their drink, so we have 2-3 suppliers who help us with supply for these.
I pay on time they deliver on time and that equals a good relationship.
How important is it for suppliers to consider sustainability and environmental issues to pubs and bars?
Kristina: All the wineries DOCG all sustainable and so proud of the product that they produced. They are all hand-picked.
All Prosecco is Vegan and one is certified organic. Achieving the certification is difficult and expensive and being small wineries they struggle to afford to be certified.
One of our producers only makes 75,000 bottles and hand-picked on steep hills so that no machinery can get up it. So the challenges of things like organic certification are large.
Pubs and bars are still closing at 18 per week (CAMRA Aug 2018) – do pubs/bars have a long-term future in the UK?
Kristina: Pubs are tradition in the UK part of the culture – quality price quite sad lot closing
I do like the gastropubs with good food and wine, so it is really sad that so many are closing.
To survive it is very hard with the levels of pay, rent and business rates.
I do think that they have a long-term future, but it will be the best ones that will survive.
Are pubs/bars a place to have a drink or centre of a community?
Kristina: It is a combination of both. Pubs are community and drink.
Saying that they should form part of a community is probably taking it too far.
Recruitment seems to be a big issue in the UK hospitality sector. What strategies and tactics can you use to manage it?
Kristina: We pay at good rates in order to try and keep the staff happy.
A good relationship with them is also very important – I respect them and they respect me. It is extremely difficult though.
I wanted to employ one British person, and I did have one, but they went off to travel the world, saying that London was too expensive.
I wish more British people could apply. As a bartender or mixologist, there is good money to be earned. Prosecco House staff also retain their tips, but the taxes are high and that is something not in my control. I wish that government was more sympathetic to businesses.
Summer series of Meet the Maker has seen our Prosecco growers come along and talk about their land and their wines. It went down really well. The first Autumn one is on October 1st then 22nd and then 19th November.
Any new Prosecco Houses opening?
Kristina: I’d love to try one outside London – maybe Manchester and maybe a concert bar.
About the Author
The article is contributed by Alistair Morrell a 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.
About London Spirits Competition
The London Spirits Competition looks to recognise, reward and help promote spirits brands that have successfully been created to identify with and target a specific spirits drinker. For any spirits brand to earn its place on a retailer’s shelf or a restaurant’s spirits list - and then vitally stay there - they need to be marketable and consumer driven and not just produced in the general hope it can find enough people willing to sell and buy it.