Dominic Wright – Owner @ Brauhaus

While tending the bar on a Monday evening, Dominic Wright owner of Brauhaus leant us a piece of his mind. Super interesting guy; comfortable with his bar's standing in the city, he had quite a bit to say about the industry as a whole. It was an absolute treat.

Getting into hospitality

The recession [in the late 2000s] did a huge thing for graduate jobs, so if you wanted to stay in Edinburgh and you didn’t work in finance or medicine it became very hard [to get employment] unless you went into hospitality.

What is Brauhaus?

The name is misleading (it's changing), that’s just the site that we’re on. Realistically, for us it’s drink better, drink less. It’s that context of value and quality across the board rather than novelty and niche, which  articularly works in smaller places. The atmospheric and quality push is the big thing.

Where Dominic goes to eat

I definitely make my choices depending what their lists are in terms of wet (drinks) and I believe if people give a shit about food, they should give a shit about drinks as well. So if they’re not giving a shit about both then it’s fallen apart at some point.

Is there big relationship between food and drink?

In Edinburgh and Scotland, no. More-so in Edinburgh, but people drink in different places to where they eat and that keeps it segregated. The notion of going out for a drink is much more prevalent than going out for dinner and then having a few drinks. Dinner is a special occasion, and that comes back to that more working-middle-class kind of comfort as opposed to the upper class social promotion of things.

On Big Hospitality Companies

Arguably, the likes of Wetherspoons introduce the wider public to something normally a bit better within the comforts of somewhere they already know. Then it allows people to start questioning or maybe seek out something better somewhere else. Traditionally the bigger places are the ones that the wider public are aware of and then the smaller ones can pick them off.

What could high end places learn from them?

To not drive the commercial forward as the sole purpose. If you drive the concept forward, the commercial will inherently be a part of that, but if you keep on refocusing on the concept you’ll  maintain your quality and standards. If you start to drive the commercial then that’s where you compromise. Yes, if you're a larger company you can drive your commercials  so you can get better deals, but when the deals themselves become the reason why something at your business is listed then your quality starts to fail.

On Product Margins

Coffee arguably is the same price wherever you go, whether it is good or bad. It’s really weird, but it’s great if you’re buying good coffee. But for the small operators, coffee is still a high margin and it’s going out at 2.80-3 pounds. It’s how much Starbucks and other chains are selling it for, but it’s also how much an independent is not very good at selling it for. So from a consumer’s point of view it’s relatively good value at the moment. Whereas in alcohol because we’re not manufacturing  it, that’s just what it costs.

How important is product?

For us it’s fundamental for getting people through the door, and it’s also fundamental to keeping our staff motivated and things like that. It means there’s value to them being here as opposed to just serving drinks. Stripping back the role to just the basics of what it is, it’s quite dull when it’s just service, so good product adds more value in that sense.

You are essentially creating an atmosphere for people to enjoy and letting them create their own social space. As opposed to niche and themed venues which were a very popular thing and peaked in the early to mid 2000’s, but are now definitely diminishing.

Where Dom sees Edinburgh going

The European culture of getting your coffee and your bottle of beer in the same place - it runs almost like a local store - that is the old concept, to make the general store trendy. But that doesn’t exist in Edinburgh really. I think that’s the direction to go, but the main reason for it not being that way has to do with rent and the cost of it. You need to maximise the ever-increasing cost of renting a premises and that is by trying to justify an all day trade. Fewer and fewer places can just be open for their core hours, the cocktail bars are probably the last that can do that.

So it’s not the fact that there aren’t enough [quality food locations], it’s the fact that you can’t get a new space to do it in. You have to go into an old place, which is fine because that’s how Edinburgh stops itself from becoming hundreds of chains and food retail outlets all of minimal quality. It’s just about the time period - as the consumer demand drops for bullshit chains, which is already happening,  premium locations will open with full kitchens and extractor fans. It’ll just be a question of whether people can afford to go in there as small business owners.

You’ve got to wait for the opportunity to come, you can’t force it. It’s a small city, tightly packed, and we don’t need any more - we’re already sifting through a lot of shit. What’s another one? You’ve just got to be patient.

There was a huge rates review in the last 18 months and a lot of rent prices have really started to climb up. Tourism season has been getting bigger so landlords can say that the value is there, but the only people with the money at the moment are these small micro groups, and as they get bigger arguably their quality becomes compromised.

When we talk about other cities, the cool places are cool places and they have quality, it’s a funny city this one. The cool places don’t have quality and the quality places aren’t necessarily the cool places, and that’s to do with affordability and setting up in the first place - it’s a shame.

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