One London brewery is making smart use of its local connections
A woman walks into a bar. Talks to the owner. Sets up new business.
You get to meet all sorts of people when you’re tending bar. Late Knights owner Steve Keegan credits one chat with a customer for the current success of his brewery and pub chain.
He was managing a pub in south London when he got chatting to one of his regulars, who said she was leaving to set up her own brewery in Surrey. The pair exchanged email addresses, with Steve offering advice should she need it, and it was soon all forgotten – almost.
Fast-forward a couple of years. Steve has decided to become a brewer himself and is about to contact the woman he’d been chatting to – Lera O’Sullivan, of Shamblemoose Brewery – when an email pops into his inbox.
Serendipitously, Lera had got to him first. He went to visit her and her husband Matthew, and a partnership was born, with Shamblemoose sharing Steve’s brewing space in Penge.
Steve has worked in pubs since the age of 14 and for him they serve an important part of community life. “A good pub has to be a meeting place, a hub,” he says. When he set up a pop-up pub in Gipsy Hill, it became such an important part of the local area that it stayed put.
The chain of Late Knights pubs all have the aim of serving great local beer and home-made food from local producers. Steve says: “We want to make a connection with the people who buy our beer from us and play an active part in the local community.”
By treating local suppliers well, they treat us well
Steve’s hunt for a brewhouse was also very much a search for a space where people could get involved in the business. And while the meeting space itself is important, the company maintains an active blog and Twitter account, engaging with customers across its seven sites for everything from event notices to ‘Live Brewing’ of special beers.
Where possible, Late Knights food comes from neighbourhood grocers and butchers. Using local connections as suppliers makes good business sense, says Steve. “You can talk to them directly rather than just calling up a sales centre.
“Sure, with a large company you can get credit extensions. But you can also have a frank conversation with a local supplier. Sometimes the meat or bread is coming straight out of the supplier’s back pocket, and by treating them well they treat us well.”
Building a personal connection helps establish a good reputation, too. “I want Tony the butcher to say good things about us,” he adds.
The brewer, which now employs 65 staff, also sells beer from other local brewers – including Shamblemoose, and the menus point out the locally sourced ingredients in the kitchen.
It is a collaborative approach which, says Steve, cannot be manufactured. Everyone who works for the company, he says, has to share this ethos or it will not work effectively. “It’s got to be a personal thing, not just a marketing gimmick.”