Simplicity, accessibility and value are great basis to run a business on. Vinoteca the wine bar, restaurant, and shop in six locations around London, the latest just having opened in Bloomberg Arcade espouses if not breathes these values.
Charlie Young founder and co-owner of spent half an hour with me explaining how they arrived at this point, because it wasn’t always that simple or easy.
Vinoteca’s launch in 2005 was in the vanguard of casual dining, where quality and value are paramount. Informal surroundings allow the customer to enjoy wine and food at the level that they want.
Charlie Young, Brett and Elena Woonton had both had wide ranging experience across the globe, Charlie from Sheffield and Brett is from New Zealand. They had a lot in common an instinctive feeling that setting up their own business was what they wanted to do alongside a profound passion for wine.
They knew that the odds were stacked against them. 60-70% of new restaurants fail and there was no guarantee, but that did not mean pessimism, more that they should have the spirit to follow their instincts. They had to do everything that they could to succeed. With these things borne in mind they scraped whatever money, that they could together and opened their fist outlet in Farringdon in 2005.
It felt right from the day that they opened the doors.
The learning curve of finding sites, borrowing money, setting up is steep and brutal though. It took them 5 years to open their second. They never set out for Vinoteca to be a chain. That is organically how it has evolved.
They are not the first dining outlet to reveal, with hindsight, that the second one was quite some time to bring to the fore. This seems to be a pattern for successful outlets. It is not that they wait for the 5 or 10 year gong to sound before opening their second one. It takes that time before operators are happy with their environment, where the business has arrived at and then there are the external factors of the market capability. There are internal and external issues to contend with.
In Vinoteca’s case, after 3&1/2 years they had found a new venue and were about to sign the lease, when they were gazumped. It took 18months to find a new site. I suppose that it is human nature that we do what was successful first time and repeat it. So it is with corporate estate agents. They bring their best and more interesting sites to those that they have been successful with in the past. But it makes it tough on the new starter or even the medium term growth accelerators, who may not have the established pattern of success for the corporate moguls to take notice of.
Reflecting back now with 12 years and their sixth outlet open having stuck the plan of opening a new one every 1.5-2 years from the second opening. Things are going well. And Charlie reflects on where they are in the context of London, which is, he believes over-supplied with restaurants. It is an intensely competitive market, and Charlie finds that it challenges the self, the individual, questioning the original values that you started out with, being careful that this doesn’t swing towards doubt. It’s a fine line between questioning yourself and the outlet’s areas of improvement and self- confidence.
In Vinoteca’s case they stuck with what they knew and Charlie is very pleased that they did. It is only a couple of years in that you start with the goggles of reflection on that you define what you have become. So what are they?
Vinoteca is a mix of wine bar, shop and restaurant, underpinned by wine specialism accessible to all and being great value for money. Wine can be an intimidating subject and they never wanted that to come across in how they sold wines.
Wine is also a complex subject, so expressing that value can be very difficult to articulate. In Vinoteca’s case good value means that any wine is well priced compared to the same or similar in equivalent settings. So whilst their margin maybe maintained on entry level or house standard wines, as they climb the scale the margins are applied on a sliding scale of cash as opposed to %age. This means that a wine which maybe £200 in a top restaurant will be £120 or £130 in Vinoteca. So for the oenophile who wants to spend money on excellent wine treats this is an excellent establishment to visit.
They import directly a number of their wines directly and have storage in a warehouse at Tower Bridge, which allows for good service to the outlets. Because they are so focussed on wine, they have now taken the Wine and Spirit Education Trust training in house and every member of staff from Kitchen Porters to Managers receives level 1 training as a minimum.
They don’t expect BREXIT to affect them hugely, so long as they can continue to offer value in between a range of price points then the structure of the list might change, but not the basic essence.
As for Charlie’s current favourites, his passion for wine reveals itself. It is probably about 5 sentences later that I hear the answer. This after having travelled through the southern districts of Australia, Austria, Hungary, Languedoc Roussillon, Provence, Loire, Somerset (England) from where they are discussing the possibility of an innovative red sparkling that Charlie returns to simplicity, and the basics. His favourite food and wine match is a simple but excellent steak and chips partnered with a good bottle of Shiraz or Syrah.
Having reflected on the changing styles of wine, where texture, layers and nuances have become important, as opposed to the ‘in your face’ Barossa, McLaren Vale styles of a few years ago. It belies the sustained quality of Vinoteca that we return to hearty, simple values that resonate despite change and influences along the way. The style may be different but the substance is still very much the same – simple, accessible and great value.
Alistair Morrell, Hospitality & Catering News, Wine & Drinks Editor