INTERVIEW: Chris Thewlis, Beer For Good
‘Give people what they want and you’ll do fine’
Pubs have not had an easy time of it, and there are plenty of folk who will say it’s a tough time to be getting into the trade.
Chris Thewlis, screws up his face and shakes his head. “If you’re in the wrong location you will struggle. If you’re giving people what they want you’ll do fine,” he says.
He’s not just voicing an opinion. Thewlis has just bought his second pub, one with a bit of a local tradition and which marks the beginning of what is planned to be a small chain.
Harry’s Bar, a renowned local in Edinburgh’s west end for thirty years, was on the market and Thewlis “saw an opportunity”. Along with three business colleagues, he raised £275,000 from Resilient Scotland, the social enterprise backer, to buy it and hopefully rekindle its place on the bar-goers’ circuit.
Thewlis is a big supporter of the sector. He sits on the board of Social Enterprise Scotland and is running Harry’s Bar through his company Beer for Good CIC. As such, a proportion of the profits from Harry’s will be reinvested into helping young people from difficult or disadvantaged backgrounds.
It is Scotland’s first social enterprise pub chain and joins Southside Social, the former Meadows Bar, which Thewlis opened to much acclaim last year. He plans seven more around Scotland, each one contributing to the same good causes.
He is particularly proud of helping out those who may have struggled at school or at home, and find it difficult to get on the career ladder.
“A lot of these kids just need a chance. Hospitality can give them a decent career and an escape from a bad environment,” he says.
So why did he go down the social enterprise route?
“It’s just something I believe in. The days when the mill owners and brewery owners provided schools, and homes and hospitals have gone. Nobody does that sort of thing anymore. But people still need a helping hand.”
Thewlis, a Yorkshireman, arrived in Scotland in 2008 to study sports and exercise science psychology (“Try saying that after a few beers,” he says) after making a living as a professional golfer for 15 years.
While studying he worked for pubs and nightclubs tycoon Stefan King as a doorman, eventually becoming area manager. It led him to set up his own security and training business GTS Solutions CIC, also a social enterprise company. Its clients include local authorities and events. It claims to be the most successful employability programme in Scotland with 93% of trainees staying in jobs longer than six months.
Harry’s has undergone a complete makeover and an opening night party drew an encouragingly good crowd which bodes well for future takings, but the social aspect of the business will underpin its prospects and how it operates. The bread is from Breadshare; one of the house vodkas is sourced from Hero’s; and the cleaning support comes from All Cleaned Up Scotland.
It will have a selection of craft beers from the likes of Drygate and Stewart Brewing and the spirits include Edinburgh-distilled Pickering’s Gin, Arbikie Vodka, and an exclusive whisky from premium bottler and distillery Adelphi. One of his business partners, David Moore, is involved with Craft Beer Clan Scotland.
By way of introducing something different he is also hopeful of sealing an exclusive deal with Chinese craft brewery Panda Brew, and revealed that Harry’s would be launching with two unique collaboration beers that the Chinese brewers made with the Drygate and Stewart teams while on a recent trip from Beijing. Panda’s head brewer Chen Zhengying is an alumnus of Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Brewing and Distilling and teamed up with his former classmates for the collaborations.
When we meet Thewlis has taken up residence with his laptop in a corner of the bar and there is a steady flow curious newcomers and, no doubt, former customers popping in to see what he’s done to the place. Thewlis may be keen to put something back by doing good for the community, but he’s also determined to put Harry’s back on the destination map as a place for people to have a good time.
“When you talk about Harry’s most people will mention the dance floor. It’s something that’s really chimed with people over the years,” he says.
“When we bought it over we were very keen to bring it back and turn Harry’s back into a place where people can enjoy themselves and have a fun night out.”
Birthplace: Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
Education: Edinburgh Napier University (Sports and exercise science psychology)
Career highlights: Professional golfer for 15 years from age 18; doorman and later area manager for Stefan King’s G1; set up GTS Solutions CIC and Beer for Good. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
What happened to the golf career?
I was good, but not fantastic.
Did you play any of the well-known golfers?
I trained at the same Sheffield club as Danny Willett (US Masters winner 2016)
Photos: by Terry Murden (copyright)