Rob Palmer and Toyah Marshall are the owners of The Bottle, a relaxed French-inspired wine bar and deli in Newquay, Cornwall. Through informal dining and wine tasting events, they introduce customers to wine and produce from around Europe, taking pride in carefully curating tasting boards which surprise the palate, pairing foods which enhance flavours. We recently caught up with Rob and Toyah for our Meet the Successful Founder series.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
Inspired by our travels around France and northern Spain, we had always dreamed of running a business which paired great food and wine, just like the little wine bars we used to visit.
I (Toyah) have worked in hospitality since I was 16, most notably in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Leeds for four years where my passion for food and wine began. Alongside running The Bottle, I am also a full time employment law solicitor.
Rob is a former Royal Marine and owns a functional fitness gym in Truro. Being closed throughout the lockdowns gave him time to focus on his wine education, gaining a WSET Level 2 qualification, with plans to do Level 3 and a cheesemonger course next.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
After taking part in virtual wine tastings during the first lockdown last year, our passion for wine and hospitality was reignited, and we started work on a business plan. When the perfect venue became available just around the corner from our home, we applied for a start-up loan, signed the lease, and transformed the building into The Bottle, which opened on 1 August 2020.
How did you achieve awareness?
A former colleague set up her own marketing business, so we approached her about doing our social media and website, and she has done an amazing job! We really wanted it to be a word of mouth discovery. We wanted people to come to us because they had heard good things, and so far it’s worked pretty well – especially as we are a neighbourhood restaurant and it’s locals which come to us more than the tourists. We’ve recently used Barefoot Media’s PR services to raise awareness with a wider audience in Cornwall and beyond. We chose them because of their industry background in hospitality, so we knew they would understand what we are looking to achieve.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We applied for a business start-up loan and managed to secure the funding we needed to get the business up and running, along with a small amount of our own money. We didn’t want to take on huge loans or spend too much on a start-up, especially during the first lockdown.
What are the key successes?
Our wine tasting events have been a big hit! They started off as a simple wine tasting with a cheese pairing but we have now developed further and are pairing different ‘snacks’ with the wines to really show how wine and food work together. The tastings have so far been a hit. We have done a few collaborations by bringing in our suppliers to discuss their wines such as Carte Blanche who did a biodynamic tasting with us. We are also working with Tom Thumb, a local cocktail bar, who we are doing a cheese and cocktail night with which will be more about the cheese this time. There are a few other tastings coming up this year with our next being an orange wine tasting. Our tastings are about giving people a chance to try something new or different and showing people wine can be fun.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
One of the biggest things for us has been letting people know we are here. Our venue is tucked away off the main high street, so it’s not really something you would just stumble across. Even now locals are just finding out we are here, which is where collaborations with local businesses help as we are being exposed to a customer base that may not have even been to visit let alone heard of us.
Since opening, in a town where the only cheeseboard was a small one on the dessert menu of a local restaurant, suddenly everyone is offering cheeseboards or sharing boards and at much lower prices. It is difficult for us to help the customer understand the difference in price and not see us as over-priced when others are offering a lesser quality and even under-priced product. We have therefore redesigned the menu to provide more details on why our cheeses and meats are different to what you would find elsewhere, why the quality is so good and that we are hand cutting rather than using pre-packed and sliced items. We also use social media to try and push forward little stories on our products to raise awareness about them a little more.
What are your plans now/for the future?
We have plans to expand and open another venue, and also a sister business of The Bottle that is a twist on what we are doing now – but are limited by finding the right venue in the right location. We very much believe the right thing will show up at the right time, much like the current premises did, so we are just patiently waiting for it to appear. We definitely want to expand, as The Bottle as it is right now is only a baby version of what we wanted to have, but we wanted to test the concept before jumping in too fast.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
There is never a good time, so don’t wait for one. Some might say starting a hospitality business in the middle of a pandemic, when all hospitality was closed, was a crazy idea! However, you will know when it feels right. Get a business plan in place, think about what you want to do and the costs involved, and when the opportunity presents you will be good to go. The government has some amazing funding opportunities out there right now so take advantage of them.
Can you share you top 5-10 tips for entrepreneurial success?
- Always listen to your staff. They are the ones on the front line and will tell you straight up what does and does not work.
- Focus on what you do and do it well. If you start branching into things that do not fit with what your business is, or try and copy other good ideas, that is when things can go wrong.
- Don’t be afraid to try things. Some things work and others don’t, but you learn through experience.
- Be passionate about your business but don’t let your passion ruin the business – you need to remain objective at times and look at things without the rose tinted glasses.
- Use a good book-keeper. A simple tip but do this right from the get go and it will save you time and money!
- Listen to customer feedback, even the negative comments, as you will learn from them and make changes in response.
Website & socials
Facebook: The Bottle
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