The Lucky Penny Group should really call itself the Lucky Pounds, Shillings & Pence Group considering the number of different aspects there are to the business. At its heart it’s a thriving, ambitious Liverpool-based restaurant and bar company focused around two key brands, BoBo, an Iberian wine bar specialising in Spanish and Portuguese wine, and Abditory, that prides itself on offering classic spirits, cocktails and wines. But Lucky Penny also offer a wide range of hospitality consultancy services, from bar design to restaurant concepts and even has its own specialist outdoor clothing business. Richard Siddle catches up with managing director, Steven Burgess, to get his take on what Lucky Penny Group is all about.
Lucky Penny Group has ambitious plans to build a network of bars across the country, but knows it needs to get its Liverpool bar business right first, says managing director, Steven Burgess.
Take a 20-minute walk around Liverpool city centre and you will come across every possible type of on-trade outlet, from local pubs, right through to the latest in casual dining, restaurants from celebrity chefs to high-end cocktail bars. The choice of venues has to be seen to be believed with every seemingly possible cuisine catered for, from Brazilian steakhouses, through to Japanese sushi, US burger bars, pizzerias or tapas.
As well as the national chains the thriving on-trade scene is being driven by a handful of local entrepreneurs willing to take risks, try out new venue concepts and create a restaurant, bar and pub culture the city of Liverpool can be proud of.
Steven Burgess is very much part of the new generation of restaurateurs and bar operators that have their hands on the pulse of what Liverpool is looking for. He was part of the team behind the breakthrough Camp & Furnace that helped not only rejuvenate the old Baltic Triangle area of Liverpool, but make large hospitality and themed venues hip and happening places to visit. Helping to create a community of craft food and drink and related businesses as a result. So much so you can see Camp & Furnace’s influence on hospitality and venues in major cities across the UK.
“It was a bit of a baptism of fire,” says Burgess looking back on the heyday of Camp & Furnace. “It was exciting to be part of that whole regeneration of that part of the city. The climate, though, was very different back then and you had the platform to do what you wanted and we were able to try out so many different ideas, but all to a very high standard.”
A trained chef, Burgess cut his teeth in hospitality working for high-end catering and events business, Northern Fields, where he was involved in devising and creating a wide range of events for clients such as Google, Marks & Spencer, Nike and Guinness. Whilst at the same being consultant chef at the AA rosette Albina Restaurant in Crosby, Liverpool.
Burgess has used his varied experiences to set up the Lucky Penny Group that is very much the sum of its various parts. At its heart is a thriving and growing bar operator, with two key venues: BoBo, a fun, laid back wine bar focused on Spanish and Portuguese wines; and Abditory, a neighbourhood bar, with a serious approach where the focus is on its bartenders and mixologists tasked with making the best versions of both classic and modern cocktails.
The Lucky Penny Group bills itself as a “multi-faceted hospitality group” and as well as running its own venues also consults and helps other operators bring concepts to market and advises on strategy, implementation, design, branding and staffing and how to drive a successful hospitality business forward. It even has a clothing arm – St.Terre – where it has devised its own range of outdoor wear.
Skills that have been tried and tested over the last two years of the pandemic where it has had to focus more on its own sites and looking after its teams during, and post, lockdown.
Burgess admits the Lucky Penny Group is more like “nine businesses in one” but says it is able to put the focus on different parts depending on the market, the needs of the overall company and the opportunities that come up.
It takes two…
He is also quick to stress that he would not have been able to achieve what he has to date without his close business partner by his side – Josh Moore.
“I can remember the day he walked into a kitchen I was working in over 12 years ago. I just saw the fire in his eyes. We have been through thick and thin ever since and think only had three arguments in all that time. We have been through a hell of a lot together,” explains Burgess.
He thinks their shared background working hard hours in professional kitchens has served them well.
Their immediate focus, he stresses, is in establishing and then growing its BoBo and Abditory bar concepts. Their ambition is to grow both sites to 10 venues in key cities around the country, which to get right will involve going out to get equity funding and additional commercial partners.
Burgess clearly has a natural talent for knowing what customers are looking for before they even know it. Which again takes us back to his Camp & Furnace days where it would regularly put on all sorts of extra events, be it running a butchery masterclass, or inviting Some Young Punks to host a very different kind of wine dinner. “We were looking to push and challenge and do things differently,” he says.
The BoBo experience
With BoBo, Burgess and his team have created a wine bar concept that is brave enough to push an exclusive Iberian theme, but in a way that makes wine super accessible to anyone who enjoys a glass. It is noticeable that their wine tasting nights attract people from all age groups, with mums, dads, grandparents and 20 plus year-old locals all sharing tables and joining in the fun.
Its wine list is full of tasting notes like “strawberries, cream teas and shoulder pads” or “vanilla cone, foam bananas, pool loungin” and “melon, honeydew, floozy and boozy”. Serious wines that celebrate all regions and styles of Portugal and Spain, with a range that is far more diverse than wine bars that take themselves far too seriously.
Burgess says the overriding philosophy of the venue is to “make wine as approachable as possible” and to get away from the perception of wine bars as being “full of wines you can’t pronounce, that feel elitist and uncomfortable to be in”. They are also careful not to ram wine education down people’s throats, but to give people as much information as they might want or feel comfortable with.”
Something I was able to experience for myself when I joined in one of the most enjoyable and fun wine tasting evenings put on by the very talented and passionate wine team at BoBo.
On trying the first glass of white wine I went to take my jumper off. Only to be stopped in my tracks by an elderly woman on the next table, who said: “If you take off an item of clothing for every glass of wine we drink, you’ll be down to your undies by the end!”
Who says wine tastings have to be dry, aloof affairs?
It’s very much in keeping with the atmosphere that Lucky Penny want to create at BoBo.
Burgess explains: “When I was younger and came across a big wine list in a restaurant it would scare me off. You need a good selection of wines that all your customers can afford, recognise and pronounce. Our most expensive wine is £34 a bottle. That’s why every wine on our list at BoBo is available by the glass, carafe or bottle and the tasting notes are a bit of fun, that people can understand, rather than one full of stuffy language.”
It’s also why the descriptions are very visual, and emotive and hopefully more memorable. “Our top wine on the list is only £34. It’s wine more for the masses and it has gone down very well with our customers,” he adds.
It helps that BoBo is situated in what used to be El Vino, a previous strong wine brand in the city, and it has managed to bring back a lot of its regulars as well as appeal to more wine drinkers in the area.
“We knew there was good existing wine trade there and wanted to create a credible wine alternative. We also knew there was no other Portuguese venue in the city and think the Spanish and Portuguese concept is very strong.”
Doing things right
It’s a similar approach at Abditory: “Our brief is to create a neighbourhood bar, but with old school service. Where we make cocktails that aren’t scary. It is about making classic versions of classic cocktails. Where we make them to match your tastes. We want to create a conversation between you and the server.”
This month it welcomed HomeBoy Bar from Islington in north London to come up to do a pop up of its inventive, modern Irish bar, as part of a regular monthly take over concession that BoBo is running. “We do a lot of collaborative work with other operators. We are just really open like that. It’s good, fun and interesting to do,” he says.
“We are not what you might call a closed business. We see it more as a chance for us to each make a name for each other. We are looking forward to getting growers and winemakers to BoBo and get it on that circuit. If we can find other ways to collaborate with others in the city then we will. A lot of people run bars with a closed mind. But we need bars on the same high street as us to be doing different things, there is still a lot of education that needs to happen. It’s not just about us, it’s about our guests and them going out and experiencing new things.”
To help get the right wines and drinks in front of its customers means working with the right suppliers and distributors.
“Relationships are key,” he says. “We want to work with people who are willing to move with us as a business. If our needs change then theirs have to as well. That way we can build a relationship together.”
Burgess also wants to work with suppliers that can provide good on-site training for its staff. “We need everyone to be talking the same language and that is why the training with our wine supplier is so important.”
He adds: “Staff culture drives your reputation. If your culture is not right then your customers can feel it. But you have to build it step by step. It is something that can take hundreds of hours and you are adding to it all the time. We are not yet where we want our outlets to be, but we are working on it continuously.”
It’s why Lucky Penny Group has worked hard to introduce additional staff benefits such as gym memberships, and other staff discounts on goods and services and again works with its suppliers to see what trips and incentives they can offer – like potentially sending some BoBo staff to Spain and Portugal on a wine trip in the future.
“We want to make sure our teams are financially stable, so they can pay their mortgages and spend time with their friends and families. To do that we need our venues to be doing well, and the better the business does, the better we can all do. We also want our venues to be seen as a good place to work, to grow your skills and learn.”
Hopefully the investment they make in their staff will benefit everyone in the company. To help, Lucky Penny has recently brought in a new operations director, Adam Keegan, who has a lot of experience working for different operators in Liverpool including Middle East-inspired Maray, Tribeca Bars’ Neon Jamon, Little Italy and Berrington’s, and the former Baby Elephant in Woolton.
Keegan explains why he has joined: “I’ve been in this business for a long time and Lucky Penny’s philosophy chimes with my own in terms of empowering their teams, employing and paying their staff properly and making that necessary step change in the way this sector of hospitality is perceived as a career.
He adds: “I’ve joined a group whose approach is different, rare and unusual and they put a premium on the experience of everyone who walks through their doors and demand great service for all their guests.”
Steven Burgess and Josh Moore could not have put it any better themselves.
- You can find out more about Lucky Penny Group here.