During lockdown the owners of Letchworth’s award-winning Garden City Brewery had to innovate and adapt quickly to keep their business afloat and secure its long-term viability.
Garden City Brewery opened in June 2016. Located among the many other small independents in The Wynd, this micro-brewery and brew-bar offers a unique selection of beers, a warm welcome and a convivial atmosphere. Pre-Covid, there was indoor seating available for up to 50 people, with plenty more outdoors in the beer garden.
The business is co-owned by Letchworth residents Holly-Anne Rolfe and husband Nick. “We love Letchworth because it’s got such a lovely community atmosphere. It’s a friendly, leafy and unique place to live and run a business,” said Holly.
“We got off to a great start – people joked that we’d become millionaires and buy a house on The Broadway! But as much as we need a viable business, money really isn’t what drives us. We just want to produce great beer, keep prices accessible and be generous to our staff and customers.”
Originally an illustrator, Holly manages the business while juggling the competing demands of raising their two-year-old son, Bertie.
Despite working full-time in London as a civil servant, Nick is passionate about brewing his beers on site. He’s also a dab hand at DIY. Garden City Brewery employs five core members of staff and has fast access to a flexible band of freelancers who are happy to step in and help during busy periods.
At the start of 2020 the business was a thriving community hub and Holly was contemplating expansion: “Our little on-site brewery was operating at its maximum limit so we were looking at how we could create room for a bigger brew kit.”
“We were determined to keep trading…”
Like many other brewery businesses, Holly encountered supply problems early on: “It was impossible to get hold of takeaway vessels and we ended up having to pour our draft beer into plastic milk bottles for customers to transport back to their homes. It was hard to get hold of the right sizes, so we had to switch from pints to litres.”
Money was tight, but fortunately help was at hand. “We were saved because we were spared two major overheads during lockdown,” said Holly. “The first was staffing costs, thanks to the Government’s support schemes. And the second was rent, which the Heritage Foundation generously waived for three months – we really appreciated that, especially because we knew the money would otherwise have been reinvested in other parts of the town.”
As lockdown went on, Holly further refined the business model. She set up two separate email addresses: one for ‘click and collect’ pre-orders, to help manage the takeaway queues, and another for deliveries. She also changed the deadline for orders to 9pm on the previous day and dropped the Sunday delivery option because demand was highest from Thursday to Saturday.
“We got into a rhythm,” she said. “We were doing on average around 16 deliveries a day."
"Some customers were placing regular orders on behalf of their street and we found that we were actually selling around the same volumes of our own-brewed beer as before.”
“As for the future, nobody knows what’s in store, but I’m hoping that in the post-Covid world Letchworth’s town centre will once again flourish as a diverse and unique place that residents and visitors can all enjoy. For now, we’re just happy to take things one week at a time…”