The next in our Couples in Business series is a small business that has quickly become entwined with Alice Made This work life. The question 'Beer Shop?' is a staple in our office, with this micropub on Nunhead high street now an extension of both our work and social space. Run by husband and wife team Lee Gentry and Lauren Willis, The Beer Shop London offers a relaxed and friendly hangout to learn about and sample some of the best craft beer on the market, from both local breweries and those from further afield. We catch up with the couple to learn more about the business, how it started and what's next for this corner of beer bliss.
"I've worked in pubs for a long time," Lee tells me. "My dad has always run pubs so I've sort of grown up in them I suppose. That was back out in Essex and, at 10 years old, I'd go and see my dad at the weekends and he would be busy in the pub, filling the cellar, cutting the grass or tinting the windows. I moved into London to start studying and, while working in better pubs, gained a knowledge as well as an interest. Beer has been my tipple of choice anyway, but knowing better and more about beer - how beer is produced and what goes into making it - you start to appreciate it a bit more. I had to go with it."
Around 18 months ago, at 40 Nunhead Green, The Beer Shop London first opened its doors. At that point Lauren still worked full time at a gallery, where she had been for seven years, so Lee was on the ground serving customers (like us!) and running the store. Having worked in pubs and bars all his life, it got to a point where he wanted more creative control, being the one to decide what he could and couldn't do, and teamed up with wife Lauren to make their vision happen.
"We definitely saw a trend towards craft beers," Lauren says. "People were starting to get really interested in local breweries and what was happening in their local areas. We had been talking about working together for ages and doing our own thing. We just got to the stage where we wanted to do something for us. We had lots of plans and ideas. We were trying all these micropubs in Kent and thought something like that would work really well in London."
"We saw the rent come up on Twitter actually", Lee adds, "and it was a complete fluke that we saw it. We were looking at Brockley and other places, but it was a bit of luck. We had the idea and then the location came up and it all fell into place."
Finding the Nunhead shop meant that Lee and Lauren's idea could evolve beyond what they first imagined. They knew the idea and the aesthetic that they wanted, but the space brought that all together. Previously a small recording studio, with high ceilings and a hatch separating the mixer and the bands, the shop now feels like an extension of the couples' front room. Welcoming, warm and creative.
"We've got really different strengths, focuses and things that we're interested in," says Lauren. "We worked together on the photography for a friend's wedding - Lee studied photography and I studied Fine Art - so that was like a little test of working together, but we've actually known each other since primary school."
"We were born in the same hospital three days apart!" Lee laughs."There's no surprises! I bring the knowledge and the product itself. The maintaining and that type of thing."
"And you're hands on and really practical" Lauren continues. "I'm more forward planning and organised. We know each other so well that we don't have to navigate around each other - the waters aren't muddy and we know where each other are. It's been good to spend more time together."
As with any couple working together, time together at work, out of work and time alone become three essential schedule splits. Making time for yourselves as a business, as a couple and as individuals can be hard to juggle, with boundaries between work and home life blurring. Running such a social business with changing shifts, I wonder how this couple deals with the work/home divide.
"It all falls quite naturally," Lee says. "We get to the other side and it always comes good. We keep the shop closed on a Monday so that we know we can always have Mondays together, but you have to make orders on a Monday. I try to get as much done on a Sunday, but sometimes it doesn't work. It's a division of space. When I go home then I know that's me off."
"We try and be quite aware of not talking about it," Lauren adds. "If we are out for dinner or something and we get a call, then we get a call and we'll deal with it. Otherwise we just assume that everything is fine. If you make sure that you carve out that time then it's not too intense."
Lee and Lauren not only carve out time for each other, but they carve out time for their customers. The Beer Shop London feels like a community within a community. With 'Meet the Brewers' events every month and their wealth of knowledge behind the bar, a cluster of loyal regulars has formed. Yes, there are more expensive bottles in the fridge, but there are always £3.50 pints and cheaper bottles on offer. The short descriptions on the menu make ordering easy, even for beer beginners, and there are no feelings of exclusivity or snobbery.
At Alice Made This we believe in honesty and expertise, making sure that we know every detail of the materials and processes that go into making our products, so that our customers can be confident in the precision and refinery that goes into each piece. Although beer and accessories may seem worlds apart, both our businesses are about being open, supporting British business, sharing knowledge and forming a community of like minds. With the launch of our Women's collection, we are striving to expand that community and, when I ask Lee what's next for The Beer Shop London, it is more than welcome to hear that they are doing the same.
"We're looking for a second shop", Lee says. "We're not pushing it too hard, but if something comes up then we'll run with it."
Learn more about The Beer Shop London here and visit Lee and Lauren at 40 Nunhead Green, London, SE15 3QG.