On the blog today we have UK brand ambassador for Disaronno Rod Eslamieh, a man who has had a chequered career in the drinks industry. He gives us the benefit of his hard-won wisdom…
Eslamieh began working in drinks when his father bought an old fire station in Brentford, west London, which they turned into a bar and restaurant. It was an odd career move because up to this point Eslamieh didn’t drink alcohol. But he quickly fell in love with the bar culture, and the venue became very successful:
“We opened in 2003. In 2006, within three years, we won the Best Bar Team in the whole UK at the Class Bar Awards. In 2007 and 2008, I was shortlisted for Best Bar Manager at Class Awards. In 2009, I actually won the London heat of the Jack Daniel’s cocktail competition to go and represent (the bar) in Tennessee”, he said.
Not everything went so smoothly, however. Eslamieh had to leave the Old Fire Station after problems with local residents (more on this below). Since 2014, he’s been a brand ambassador for William Grant & Sons looking after Disaronno Amaretto. With his wife Ellie, he runs Chapter 72, a coffee and cocktail bar near London Bridge. So, from a man who has tasted the highs but also felt the lows, here are some top tips for the budding bar owner:
Connect with the community
At the Old Fire Station, Eslamieh had problems when a small group of residents who didn’t like having a late bar in their neighbourhood concocted a case against him. They accused him of harassment and aggressive behaviour. Even though there was no evidence, Eslamieh ended up having to walk away from his own bar. He told me what he’d learned from what must have been a bruising experience, “I’d say the two top mistakes that people will make when opening up a bar is not understanding their community and engaging with them.” For his new bar in Bermondsey Street he made sure that this didn’t happen again by talking to local residents and businesses, and getting them on side.
Don’t try to be too perfect
Eslamieh said: “I think too many people wait for everything to be perfect, for the stars to align. Sometimes you should just get on with it rather than just think all the time. Because if you think a lot then you can easily talk your way out of something.”
Location, location, location
It was a complete accident finding the space that became Chapter 72 in Southwark. He was visiting his friend Simon Difford (from Difford’s Guide) and thought: “‘God, this is a really nice street’. So I called my wife and said, ‘there’s a lot of nice restaurants and bars here’. And then just outside I saw this shop with a To Let sign. I called the agent up and I said, ‘can I come and see it?’ and they said, ‘someone’s just pulled out, do you want to come and see it tomorrow?’.” The bar opened six weeks later (see rule above on not making it too perfect).
Get the vibe right
This is perhaps a hard one to teach but we’ve all walked into bars and restaurants which you know just aren’t working. Eslamieh said, “I’m a great believer that sometimes you can go into somewhere and there’s a real positive feel and a real good connect, and sometimes there isn’t. And I think you can just see by the way the bartenders and the team move around, how the back bar looks, are the tables messy…”
“Learning to step back and let your team have ownership of the business. Not micromanaging. But also finding out where their strengths and weaknesses are and how you can work on it,” Eslamieh told me.
Don’t let it go to your head
It’s not all glamour running a bar, according to Eslamieh. “So you’ve won Bacardi Legacy, you’ve won World Class, you’ve won Glenfiddich Experimental, you’re on the shoulders of bartenders, you’re on the magazines, you’re a superstar. Now I’m going to take this pin and I’m going to burst your bubble. Do you know who doesn’t care that you make the best Old Fashioned in the world? Your landlord. They want to get paid! Who doesn’t care that you make the best Mojito? The local council. If you’re going into opening up a bar thinking it’s all fun and glamorous then you’ve got to think again because at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. You’re the one that has to make sure everyone’s paid, everything is up to date, all licenses are compiled by, all health and safety. Make sure you have a good handyman!”
Look after your mental health
“When I first started in the industry I think there was this real kind of understanding that as a brand ambassador or a bartender you worked ten to 15 hours and then you’d go out drinking until four in the morning, you sleep all day and then you come out. I think that kind of lifestyle is starting to change. We’re seeing programmes like Healthy Hospo coming out. You’ve got more bartenders talking about how they’ve had to deal with alcohol issues and depression,” Eslamieh told me.
Have a USP
For Chapter 72, it’s coffee and cocktails. He said, “I always say that we’re a coffee shop that sells alcohol rather than a bar that sells coffee. So we’re trying to really demonstrate to people that as well as good coffee, we can do great cocktails here as well. We’re the only place, I think, in London that does Espresso Martini masterclasses.”
Put out an A board
In all the noise about the importance of social media, it can be easy to forget that the old marketing methods can be the best. Eslamieh filled me in, “when we first opened, the coffee side was really busy for us, it was going really well, and the drinks side was a little bit quieter and we didn’t really understand it. So I spoke to a member of staff and said to her ‘just put on the blackboard ‘Best Espresso Martini in town right here’. . . that weekend we were full, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”
People like fun drinks
Finally, I asked Eslamieh about his predictions for the future: “I think nostalgia will come back. I think people just want something that brings them back to where they were happy, whether it was a disco drink but a disco drink made well. In my next cocktail list, I’m going to put the Screaming Orgasm. It’s a fun drink, it brings back memories! I go to so many bars now where I look at the menu and I don’t even know what those ingredients are, they’re so complicated. There’s all these infusions, there’s all these complicated drinks. Why is LCC knocking out 88,000 Pornstar Martinis a year? Because it’s got a fun name, it’s got vanilla vodka, it’s got passionfruit, people like it.. . . 95% of people out there in the world don’t really care, they just want to have a nice time and have a nice drink.” Amen to that!
So there you have, follow these simple rules, and with a little luck and some money, you could have a successful bar on your hands.