From bank to bar for Whalley business duo Tom and Jen Jones
Opening a new business amidst a pandemic takes confidence and planning ... just ask this Lancashire couple.
Tom and Jen Jones are optimists - they had to be as they worked through lockdown to prepare to open a new hospitality business.
They had to be too when they were forced to postpone the official opening of their new venture The Whalley Wine Bar after bar manager Mario Martins and Jen both tested positive for Covid.
But now their dream has come true, with The Whalley Wine Bar up and running alongside their established business The Whalley Wine Shop.
Tom, a former pupil of Longridge High School, had studied law at Durham University before fulfilling his ambition to work in the wine trade.
He had worked at Threshers in Longridge as a student and on graduation joined the company's graduate programme, working in Skipton, Birkdale and Stockport before running the Whalley branch. When Threshers closed down he decided to open his own wine shop in Whalley.
The Wine Shop on King Street has won numerous awards including the 2019 National Decanter Award for Best Independent Wine Shop. It opened in 2010 and Tom credits his former Longridge Threshers' boss Warwick Thompson with providing much appreciated help in its first months.
The shop evolved over the years and offered customers the chance to take a seat and purchase glasses of wine as well as buy bottles of wine, quality spirits and craft beers.
But when the former Barclays Bank adjacent to the shop came up to let Tom, 36, and wife Jen, 31, knew it could be the perfect premises for a companion business venture - a stand alone wine bar.
He and Jen, who also went to Longridge High before studying hospitality management at UCLan, debated the timing of their new venture. Tom said: "We had many a sleepless night debating whether it was a brave or a foolhardy thing to do, but everyone I talked to said it was such a good location and the shop has an excellent reputation. So we signed the lease on the day that Boris Johnson locked down the country for the second time. Crazy or what!"
They commissioned local furniture maker Paul Case to do the interior refurbishment and his work included creating the bar, bespoke shelving and a wine room.The tasting room, called The Vault, is situated where the bank's safe was kept and is now a space for customers to have personal tastings and consultations. It also houses some of the Bar’s rarest wines.
Tom said: "We found that our customers absolutely loved the ambience of tasting and drinking wine in the shop, but with over 1000 different wines on display and often over 20 wines to taste 'By The Glass', the shop was frequently packed with customers, and it became clear we needed more space for customers to relax and enjoy their wines. We recognised what we needed was a dedicated space to drink and enjoy wines that wasn’t a shop."
The new Bar will offer both indoor and outdoor wine tasting events with a planned outdoor Wine Garden due to open next spring. This will comprise an outdoor area with seating in wine pods, each dedicated to a specific country with information about the wines from that country.
Tom said: "We're aiming to be a genuine wine bar, but not just any wine bar we want to be the best place to enjoy and drink wine in the north west with one of the best ranges of wine by the bottle or by the glass anywhere in the UK. A genuine wine bar designed by wine lovers for wine lovers."
He added: "There will be a small range of beers and spirits for non wine drinkers but no draught beer or cocktails."
The couple also faced the challenge of recruiting staff and Tom said: “We’ve been very lucky in finding a manager with experience in the county’s top hospitality establishments and with a genuine passion and love for wine. Mario and his team will be happy to help customers choose wines they will enjoy."
They believe the public will appreciate "the unique proposition" of being able to enjoy a glass of wine and pop next door to the shop to buy a bottle, or buying a bottle in the shop and heading next door for it to be opened and enjoyed.
The bar, which is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, opened to the public on Friday, July 23 and Tom said: "It has been very busy and customers have been fantastic in their support."
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