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A wine shop and alehouse born at the start of the recession

IN this week's SME Focus we hear from a man who has helped develop a new brand of Scottish craft ale after making a move into business for himself in the teeth of a recession.

David AUSTIN: The success of de Brus, Austin's Robert the Bruce-inspired Dunfermline blond ale, has spurred him on to build the business.
David AUSTIN: The success of de Brus, Austin's Robert the Bruce-inspired Dunfermline blond ale, has spurred him on to build the business.

Name: David Austin.

Age: 44.

What is your business called?

I have two businesses: Reuben's Cafe and Wine Store and The Bruery.

Where is it based? Dunfermline.

What does it produce and what services does it offer?

Reuben's Cafe and Wine Store is Dunfermline's only independent wine and spirit store. We offer specially blended coffee, home baking, and a menu that supports fresh, local produce. We also offer a great range of wines and spirits and we have a wine club and tasting evenings every month.

Last year, with help from Douglas Ross, an independent brewer from Bridge of Allan, we produced a Dunfermline blond ale, which I named de Brus after Robert the Bruce. The ale is a nod to Dunfermline's past and its long brewing history. Douglas is a director of de Brus brewery and does all the brewing.

The Bruery is a bar with a microbrewery in the basement, which provides a home for the beers and ciders that are made on the premises, from natural ingredients with no chemicals or additives. Our products range from lighter blonde ales and Scottish lager to the darker and more robust Nut Brown and the stout.

There are also two ciders available.

Who does it sell to?

Reuben's Cafe and Wine Store enjoys a regular and loyal customer base locally. Wine lovers attend the tasting events and join the wine club. The Bruery is building its clientele and, as Dunfermline is a very popular tourist destination, both venues welcome large numbers of visitors.

What is its turnover?

As The Bruery just opened in November 2013, we don't yet have figures; however, Reuben's Cafe and Wine Store turns over £275,000.

How many employees?

We have 24 staff who work between the two operations.

When was it formed?

I opened Reuben's in 2009 just as the country was heading into recession, which wasn't by design, but it did present problems. A lot of lenders just laughed at me, but RBS provided a loan and I've been with them ever since.

Hospitality is a hard industry to make money in as it is an overhead-laden business.

After opening I expanded the cafe into the premises next door for the wine store.

It took a year from the first bottle of beer to the Bruery Bar opening. When I knew I wanted to add a local beer to the wine store, I got in touch with Douglas Ross. We tinkered with ingredients until we produced the one we liked, which was a blond ale, and I added that to my stock in November 2012. It doesn't take long to brew a beer but it probably took us two or three months to get the one we liked. I added a spider to the label in acknowledgement of Robert the Bruce and the spider.

We knew from the reaction and subsequent sales that we had a winner so went about getting funding. TV's Dragon's Den contacted us and we filmed with them last March for this year's series, so I'm hoping we might appear in one of the episodes. They didn't fund us but did offer positive comments, which spurred me on.

I had my eye on a few properties, attracted the support of a few stakeholders, and got the Bruery up and running last November.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was a wine and spirits manager for a number of hotel groups including Gleneagles and Rocco Forte Hotels.

Why did you take the plunge?

I was working for the Malmaison and Hotel du Vin group across a number of their properties in Scotland but, once the projects I was involved with were completed, I was made redundant. This was the third time that had happened and as I didn't want to go through it again I decided to work for myself. I'd been living in Dunfermline for a few years by then and felt it didn't have a cafe that would attract me, so I set up my own.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

For both Reuben's Cafe and The Bruery, some was raised from personal reserves and from Royal Bank of Scotland loans. With the bar I've also had support from Business Gateway Fife, who helped me secure £5000 from Fife Council's Fife Investment Fund towards initial set-up costs.

What was your biggest break? Finding the right venues for both ventures in Dunfermline's town centre as location is a large factor in the food and drink industry.

What was your worst moment? Discovering what impact business rates would have on my business. Reuben's Cafe occupies numbers 10-12 New Row and then I expanded into number 14 for the Wine Store.

This means I'm charged rates for two separate premises, even though it is just one business. I do receive the small business bonus scheme relief for each site but it is not enough.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I love being my own boss and coming up with ideas, being able to implement them and seeing the effect they have. It was great to see my idea for de Brus beer going from a scribble on a piece of paper to a conversation piece. And in the cafe we think and plan what to make for customers, and to see them enjoy what we've produced is very worthwhile.

What do you least enjoy?

Dealing with the complexities of bureaucracy and VAT.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To continue to grow the cafe and wine store and to establish our de Brus beer as a leading brand of Scottish ale.

What are your top priorities?

To provide a product and service that is above all else on offer in Dunfermline; to establish the Bruery as a key part of the city's bar and restaurant scene; to take de Brus ales into the marketplace as a serious brand; to continue to make both businesses viable and sustainable over the coming years. I get bored easily, so I'm always looking at other ideas and ventures to help develop the overall business.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Listen to small businesses because, as it has been stressed, we are the backbone and the future of economic growth.

Reduction or abolishment of business rates and/or a reduction in VAT and National Insurance Contributions or any other mechanism that impairs the ability of small businesses to trade, grow and employ would also help.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Always trust your instinct and follow your own path.

How do you relax?

Both businesses take up a lot of time, but I enjoy catching up with family and friends and, of course, sampling new wines and beers.

Contextual targeting label: 
Food and drink

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