How a 'cocktail in a box' has made a Worksop couple's hospitality business boom in the pandemic
“There’s something within me, I’m stubborn and was not about to let everything we’d worked so hard for disappear because of the pandemic.”
Not only did Susan Hale refuse to let the microbrewery business and bar and restaurant she runs with husband Richard go under, the couple diversified and even launched a new business during lockdown.
Determined the pandemic would not be the death knell for award-winning Grafton Fine Ales, restaurant, coffee shop and micro bar The Malt House and tapas restaurant La Roca at the Malt House the couple began to think of ways they could adapt.
Lockdown even provided the tenacious Worksop couple with an idea for a new business venture.
Susan came up with the ‘Cocktail In A Box’ scheme delivering expertly blended cocktails complete with instructions and garnishes to create that perfect mixology level craft cocktail to enjoy at home.
And the idea has grown from strength to strength.
Susan said: “I always wanted to have our own gin as the grain used from the beer brewing process can be made into gin so there’s no waste, so we used time in lockdown to create a traditional gin and an apricot flavour gin.
"We are also creating a caramel vodka to go alongside the caramel stout. After creating the spirits we started offering cocktails in a jar through lockdown for people who wanted to order takeaways and that idea snowballed.
"We were receiving emails from people all over the country saying they wanted to buy our cocktails and we started looking into ways we could transport them and the cocktail in a box was born.
"The feedback has been great, a lot of people are buying them for gifts, we’re sending a lot out for people to enjoy on zoom parties, it was all about finding ways to diversify the business.
"If you’re not willing to adapt and diversify in situations like this then you’re scuppered.
"I tried to put myself in the shoes of the customer and think about what people wanted. We invested financially and emotionally and tried to do things no one had done. I looked at trends and thought about people who were missing the social side of going out and the cocktails have been so successful that we will continue to offer this after lockdown."
As well as launching the new arm of the business Susan and Richard used grit and determination to dig deep to keep La Roca at The Malt House – their micro bar, tapas restaurant and coffee shop - afloat by offering luxury grazing platter takeaways that also proved popular with residents missing going out for a meal.
The couple are no stranger to setbacks in fact just 15 weeks before the pandemic La Roca was devastated by floods that hit Worksop town centre hard.
The devastation caused by the flooding meant the couple had to relocate their tapas bar to The Malt House after the original Newcastle Avenue venue was destroyed by flood water.
Susan said: “I don’t think I’d even got my head around the flooding when the pandemic hit, it was absolutely horrific we’d only been open 15 weeks after moving the restaurant when we were forced to close because of lockdown.
"We were absolutely devastated, the stress was absolutely horrific. I don’t think people really talk about mental health within the hospitality industry and the stress of having to open and then close in the beginning was awful, we just didn’t know what was around the corner.
"I think it was the death knell for a lot of hospitality businesses but luckily I think I’m very savvy and I ring fenced the businesses and protected them.
"We invested heavily in the website, which turned out to be the best investment we've ever made and focused on the E-Commerce side of things to grow our online presence. I’ve done so many courses focused on ecommerce and web skills which at the age of 45 I didn’t think I’d be doing but I’ve really thrown myself into it.
"Our trade is not just a job it's a lifestyle, it’s all I’ve ever known so for the government to turn round and say retrain, I found that quite offensive, it wasn’t really an option for me.
“I think the key to this has been adaptation, you’ve got to be brave and take chances. I come from a long line of strong working women and I’ve never been afraid to muck in.”
After riding the storm of the pandemic for a year the couple are now hopeful for the future.
Susan said: “I hope for us that we can keep growing the ecommerce side of things and get the brewery back up and running to full capacity which will take time but we’re ready for it. We are looking at potentially May to reopen La Roca at The Malt House but definitely June, we’ll be led by the data not dates.
"When we do reopen we just hope we can give people in Worksop somewhere nice to come too so they know that no matter how bad things feel things will get better.
"At the beginning it felt like our whole world had been taken away but now I’m actually excited for the future.”
To find out more visit graftonfineales.co.uk