Five great businesses born in hospitality venues

A look at five great businesses that were born in a pub or café. And is there a new hospitality era on the horizon?

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Imagine you’re at the local pub with a couple of friends. You’re catching up; family, mutual friends, work – the usual conversation topics pop up. You mention how bored you are of your job, and your friends mention how bored they are of theirs. Then one of you mentions a business idea they’ve been floating around for a while, and before you know it, you’ve all come up with a business plan. 

With their buzzy atmospheres fuelled by morning coffee breakers, lunch takers, and after work drinkers, hospitality venues provide perfect places where people can relax and ideas can flourish. 

But as you’ll discover when you read the stories of our businesses born in hospitality venues, it’s not only pubs that hold the magic key to unlocking the best business ideas. Cafes too, with their fresh coffee, free internet, and relaxed environments, are the perfect places to come up with business plans, chat to potential customers, and discuss contracts.

Once our founders have shared their stories, we’ll look at how changing attitudes towards remote working are birthing a new era in the hospitality industry. 

With one in three remote workers saying they’d be happy to work from a pub, and 23% of remote workers saying they’ve worked from a coffee shop since the first lockdown ended in July 2020, does using designated space in hospitality venues hold the answer for small businesses that don’t want to splash the cash on leasing an office?

Starling Bank – Le Pain Quotidien, Marylebone

Anne Boden, CEO & Founder, Starling Bank

“The hum of a cafe can be very good for the soul when you’re working alone”

Founded in 2014, Starling Bank is the brainchild of founder and CEO Anne Boden. With 1.8 million customer accounts and £363m in backing, Starling Bank has come a long way since its fledgling days in Le Pain Quotidien on Marylebone High Street.

Opening early and filled with “a real mixture of people,” Boden valued the “warm, friendly environment” that the cafe offered. “The buzz of the cafe gave me energy, and made me feel like I had a purpose. [It] gave me a location where I could meet new candidates and business partners, and it meant I could look after myself with nice food and fresh coffee – and also feel less alone.”

Why do you think hospitality venues make great places to work?

“They’re affordable, located in an area you often couldn’t afford to rent office space in, and can be inspiring – from the people around you to the food you eat.”

Binita Shah, Social Media Tini

The Social Media Tini The Aqua Shard, Southwark

“The name The Social Media Tini was born here, as it was a cheeky take on our love for catching up over cocktails”

While sipping cocktails in the bar area of the Aqua Shard, The Social Media Tini founders Emma Creese and Binita Shah had a “lightbulb moment”. Realising that small business owners and influencers were frequently asking for their help, they decided to “create a free mastermind […] to help them through the turbulent times.”

Emma Creese, The Social Media Tini

As they admired the “sweeping views over London,” Creese and Shah decided to “combine over three years of experience running their own agencies.” They also discussed how they could continue their cocktail-inspired theme for some of their services  – Facebook content became “Happy Hours”, while short, quickfire tips became “Shots”.

Why do you think hospitality venues make great places to work? 

“We love hospitality venues as a place to work because the service is always great, and you can get a break from working from home. They’re also a great place from which to draw inspiration and network!”

PhenomGames Java Coffee Bar, Manchester

“By just being there, I felt energised, free to consider not conforming, and a little more courageous in my pursuits”

Lee Chambers Psychologist Entrepreneur

Lee Chambers decided to start PhenomGames, a games wholesale site, while studying for a degree in International Business Psychology at the University of Manchester. He found it challenging to find a place where he could concentrate on his future business. “My university dorm was an echo chamber; the university library was a place of documenting, rather than a place of action. The coffee shop was inspiring.”

Chambers found the cafe provided the perfect environment to “brainstorm business ideas.” It also provided the perfect location to complete some major business milestones. He “played with words” to create the business name, and his first logo was drawn there. “Each day I would escape the bubble, and come and work on building my business plan, using university resources and the latest online tools. I remember spilling my coffee on my first cashflow forecast draft, and having to write it out again before typing it up!”

Why do you think hospitality venues make great places to work?

“You get exposure to so many conversations, organic insights into the minds of others. You can relax and feel less stimulated, and this helps to get creative in environments designed for human connection and not for working.”

Adzuna The Ring, Southwark / Oma’s Apotheke, Hamburg

“We have tens of millions of monthly visitors and a team of 100 people, but we never lose sight of those guiding principles, scribbled on a beer mat back in 2010.”

Adzuna founders

Adzuna founders Andrew Hunter and Doug Monro would often meet in a pub to discuss launching a business together. The most convenient pub for them both was The Ring, just outside Southwark tube station, and the two founders loved it for its “great selection of beers on tap, outdoor seating, really good menu […], and quiet corners where it was easy to have a confidential business discussion.

It wasn’t until the pair went to Hamburg to watch Fulham FC in the Europa League Final that they finally “pulled the trigger” on going into business with each other. Losing no time in getting straight to it, the founders “wrote the initial business plan on the back of a beer mat.” Since then, Adzuna has appeared in the Startups 100 three times. Fast forward to 2020, and with the negative effect of the pandemic on the job market, the two founders are even more committed to getting people back to work.

Why do you think hospitality venues make great places to work?

“Some of the best business meetings (internal and external) we’ve ever had have been held in British hospitality venues. Whether it’s having a one to one meeting with a colleague or getting a partnership deal over the line, restaurants, cafes, and pubs (particularly in the UK) can be brilliant venues for getting work done.”

Dan, Fudge AnimationsFudge Animation Studios The Royal Standard Pub, Camberley 

“I strongly believe that the best decisions are made over lunch when we aren’t under pressure”

Like with many business ideas, Fudge Animation Studios was born in a typical British boozer – “a local’s pub. The sort of place where one of the punters’ dogs has a permanent seat reserved for it,” say founders Dan Weaver and James Hill. And in actual fact, the business was born and named in the same sentence, with Weaver exclaiming: “I could start an animation studio… I could call it Fudge.” 

During their time at the pub, Weaver and Hill came up with a list of what they would and wouldn’t do. James, Fudge AnimationsWith their new business, they wanted to “hang [their] hats firmly on animation, with a view to producing meticulously crafted animation that moved people.” While they didn’t “map out any written plans or financials,” they did “list out the values”, and “still have the beer-stained scrap of paper they wrote these initial thoughts on.” 

Why do you think hospitality venues make great places to work?

“Hospitality venues are an amazing place to build relationships with both internal and external stakeholders. Sometimes, the best decisions are made over lunch when we aren’t under pressure – we can actually take time to consider all pros and cons. Plus, hospitality venues are less formal, meaning that you can focus on building a more personal connection with the person you’re meeting – which is hardly achievable in a typical board room.”

So, can hospitality venues become a serious alternative to office space?

The stories shared by these founders demonstrate that hospitality venues are the perfect place to find inspiration and discuss business in a relaxed, open setting. But do they have an even bigger part to play in the future of the way we work? Grace Garland, PR Director at MVF Global, tells us that she already holds offsite idea generation sessions in a pub down the road from her office.

“I started hosting ideation sessions offsite to take colleagues out of the office environment. Office environments can feel restrictive, and I wanted a space where team members feel like they can air all of their ideas. In the pub, colleagues benefit from a change of scenery, tea, coffee, and snacks, and lots of opportunity to chat about their ideas.”

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has catalysed a change in the way people view the standard workplace. With offices closing their doors and people turning dining tables into desks, remote working has become the new norm. Furthermore, bosses have realised that employees can be just as productive working outside of the office as they can in it. 

But it soon came to light that the longer employees worked from home, the more they missed the buzz and social interactions of the office environment. With returning to the office out of the question, hospitality venues came into their own, and have started offering remote workers a place where they can benefit from a different environment – alongside business-standard internet and all the coffee they could wish for!

In fact, there are now businesses out there that match up remote workers with their perfect remote working environment. One of these businesses is WorkClub, which provides hospitality and co-working venues with the technology required for workers to book out their spaces online. 

Nick Donnelly and his wife, Tori, who co-founded WorkClub, believe hospitality spaces “are the perfect contenders to transform into workspace environments.” Recently, and especially over the course of the pandemic, WorkClub has “seen a growth in demand from venues as well as users. 

“Venues are adapting to ensure their spaces are not only safe, but also resilient, by being able to transform their spaces into operational areas from which people can work. Hospitality businesses have the added benefit of being experts in customer service. It’s a win-win for users and venues.”

But working from pubs, hotels, and cafes isn’t for everyone or every profession, especially for those who require a more sophisticated remote-working setup or somewhere with no distractions. Andrew Hunter, co-founder of job search site Adzuna, made an interesting comment:

“I don’t think hospitality venues are brilliant for all forms of work. If I told my engineering team that we were encouraging working from hospitality venues in 2021, I’d likely be met with initial enthusiasm followed by a bit of a reality check.

Restaurants and pubs are loud, bustling, distracting, sometimes cramped – even with noise cancelling headphones, that’s not a good environment for a focussed software engineer trying to write code!”

Whether you’re using a hospitality venue to discuss your fledgling business idea over a glass of wine, meeting clients for lunch, or whiling away the afternoon with a coffee as you work on your latest article, there’s no doubt that these quintessentially British establishments play their part in supporting workers and businesses.

That said, they have their limitations, and aren’t suited for everyone. And while they’ve adapted and will continue to adapt, there are some roles and businesses that just aren’t suited to that environment. 

What we do know is, hospitality businesses have always had a part to play in the story of British business – and will almost certainly have an even larger part to play in the future!

Written by:
Aimee is Startups' resident expert in business tech, products, and services. She loves a great story and enjoys chatting to the startups and small business community. Starting her own egg delivery business from the age of 12, she has a healthy respect for self-starters and local services.
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