INTERVIEW: Reasons to be Cheerful
Last year, when we were living in an inconspicuous part of South Manchester (North West Burnage? North East Didsbury? South East Withington?), we regularly fantasised about a decent drinking hole within spitting distance where we could enjoy some tasty and unusual beers from Manchester, the North West and beyond.
You can imagine our excitement when we heard that some mysterious characters were attempting to open a craft beer micropub on Fog Lane. Unfortunately, due to the legal and administrative faff apparently involved in opening a micropub, we had all moved out of the area by the time Reasons to be Cheerful Beer Cafe opened.
Nevertheless, we couldn’t resist paying it a little visit to drink a few thirds and have a chat with lovely owners, Elena and Andrew as soon as it opened.
Admittedly, it's opening week was back in January. In our defense, the interview we conducted with them got lost in cyberspace and was only painstakingly retrieved thanks to the co-operation the finest minds of CERN, NASA and the MIT.
Thanks for your patience. Here’s the interview:
SPECIAL BREWS MCR: Before you followed your dream of opening a beer shop, what did you do?
ELENA: I have a masters in museum and gallery education and worked in museums and schools up till the end of last year. The only reason I’m doing this is because I love beer so much… It’s a difficult field to get into, museums and galleries.
ANDREW: I used to work in pubs and clubs when I was a student... I finished Uni and was working in Mediacity for a bit but the contract dried up so I ended up going into the kitchen... so I was a chef for about a year and a half, just before we opened. And that was really stressful, you know, 12, 13 hour days in the kitchen. And now it’s 12 and a half hour days talking about beer. It’s much nicer now!
SBMCR: What started the transition from one to the other?
ELENA: We met each other and established a love for beer that we both had anyway.
ANDREW: We met in the Marble Arch pub. I was sitting on my own having a pint because I was hungover after a night out, and they all wandered out and were standing there looking for somewhere to sit. I was sitting on a table on my own and was like ‘you can join me’, and we ended up chatting, and eating cheese, and an hour and a half later these guys left and I ran out of the pub and asked her out.
ANDREW: A little embarrassing… I think I was a little drunk.
ELENA: So yeah, beer - we love beer!
SBMCR: So beer is right at the heart of your relationship?
ELENA: Beer brought us together, yeah. Marble beer.
SBMCR: What specifically inspired you to open this place, and why in Fog Lane?
ANDREW: ...I was the Marble drayman for a while, I was dropping to places like this and chatting to them and they were like yeah business is great, so I came home like, ‘these guys say they are doing really well, we could do this!’ So it sort of started as a dream, as you’re saying, and the dream becomes an idea, and the idea becomes a plan and before you know it you’re in motion .
ELENA: We found this place and just sort of carried on from there.
ANDREW: I remember this one [micropub]. I was chatting to the guy there, and he turned round and said ‘yeah, in our first year we took £250,000.’ And I was like ‘oooh that’s good.’
SBMCR: So - money, basically?
ANDREW: Well obviously I knew I wanted to do it, but I didn’t know you could earn so much… I started talking to other people, asking, are you doing well, are you doing well? All of [the people running similar places] were saying that within five or six months they had paid off their debts and were looking for the next place.
ELENA: My uncle died a couple of years ago, and he was a massive beer fan. He left us some money, so it enabled us to make an investment and do something that he would have loved...
ANDREW: ...and he loved Ian Drury, so that’s why we called it Reasons to be Cheerful.
ELENA: Various different things inspired us, and then of course we found this place on Fog Lane and researched into the area and realised... there was a lack of a decent bar around here. A lot of people were saying they were going into town or into Didsbury [to drink].
SBMCR: I guess there’s the Parrswood down the road and the Sun in September round the corner?
ELENA: Yeah and there’s a guy who comes in who lives on School Lane, near the Parrs Wood, and he said he would rather come here. Because we’re smaller, cosier.
ANDREW: And better beer, and decent prices. We are trying to make the prices as reasonable as we can.
SBMCR: What has the reaction been like so far?
ELENA: Yeah, really good!
ANDREW: A lot of people have said they love the interior
ELENA: The first night… Saturday night, was a bit manic, people seemed really pleased to have somewhere to go finally… Yeah, they have been saying ‘finally, something!’ The reaction has been really positive and the local residents have all come in for a drink. The local councillor has come in with their wife and they were just chilling… they liked the wine selection as well!
SBMCR: Is it going to be just about the beer? What else will you have going on?
ANDREW: Well, our license doesn’t let us sell hot food, but we can put on temporary events – up to thirteen a year. So we will have some pop-up nights where we’ll have some food paired with beer. Holy Crab had one in Chorlton recently (at Saison) where they paired beers with the seafood they were doing. And there’s a guy from Chorlton Whiskey who wants to do a night where pairing different whiskeys with beers – which I think is a great combination. We’ll be doing stuff like that. Eventually, we’d like to do some flights of beer with a little nugget of cheese with each beer so you can nibble on them with your third. Obviously we’ll have some ‘meet the brewers’ sessions. There are lots of Irish breweries that are starting to really really good. They’re not making their way over here, but I’d like to get a few kegs and bottles in and showcase some good Irish beer.
ELENA: I’d say it’s more about the beer personally, but we don’t want to disappoint anyone really. I love beer. But also I really like wine – and a gin and tonic… so it was important to us to have good wine as well.
ANDREW: Yeah, people will bring friends who might not like beer so it’s important to accommodate them.
SBMCR: In terms of a balance between your own personal preference, quality, price, localness and rarity, what is going to guide the selection of beers you stock?
ANDREW: Mostly beers we like.
ELENA: We’ll definitely listen to what our customers want as well. If someone comes in and asks if we’d get something in we’ll definitely take note - we wouldn’t want to disappoint anybody. But this business comes from us spending a long time going to nice pubs and drinking good beer and getting to know what we like.
ANDREW: Yeah. And I think once you know a brewery is of a certain standard, when a new beer comes out you know that’s going to be of that standard. So even if you haven’t tried a particular beer, if you know the brewery and you know their style you can rely on them.
SBMCR: Is there anything you’ll always have on either in terms of style or particular beers or breweries?
ELENA: We’ll consistently have a dark beer, a pale ale and a bitter on the handpumps to make sure we have a variety, because we only have three. On the back,* we can be a bit more adventurous. We’ll generally have an IPA and we’ll always have a lager or a pilsner. And generally something a bit stronger or more unusual… we’ll keep it diverse.
SBMCR: We’re used to hearing about the number of pubs closing down. Why do you think so many bottle shops, beer cafes and micropubs are opening at a time when traditional pubs are struggling?
ELENA: In my opinion, drinking culture is changing… maybe some people aren’t keeping up. There are so many microbreweries and start ups doing really cool and interesting things, trying it out on keg and not just cask. I think that’s attracting a crowd of people who don’t want to get tanked up and just want to taste something. Something really interesting and flavoursome.
I think there’s a change in culture in terms of binge drinking. It’s dying out – a lot of people now just want to go to a nice café or bar and drink a few halves or take few bottles home.
And I think adapting and changing, keeping things small helps to avoid closures by letting you really get to know your customers and what they want. There are too many massive pubs which do the same old thing and don’t adapt… they lose their touch a bit.
SBMCR: Nice one. Best of luck with it and thanks for talking to us!
ELENA & ANDREW: Cheers!
*i.e. kegfilth devil pumps