Time up for sports bar as Sheffield group expands

Champs Bar and Restaurant,Eccclesall Road
Champs Bar and Restaurant,Eccclesall Road

CHAMPS bar and diner in Ecclesall Road has been taken over by the fast-expanding Sheffield-based BrewKitchen group.

The landmark restaurant – which was the city’s first sports bar when it opened in 1995 – is due to close next month for a six-figure redevelopment.

It is expected to reopen after Easter with a new look and concept.

And the new owners have revealed that this is only one of five potential acquisitions currently in the pipeline.

BrewKitchen, a partnership between Thornbridge Brewery and the restaurant group run by chef Richard Smith, includes leading local venues such as Artisan at Crosspool, the Cricket Inn at Totley and Relish in Ecclesall Road.

Last year was its most successful ever, notching up a projected turnover of around £11m.

Director Simon Webster said: “2011 was a tough trading period for many in our sector but we came out of it with our strongest figures yet – and we have identified 2012 and 2013 as a period of further growth.

“We are currently in advanced negotiations for four further sites in Sheffield and north-east Derbyshire.”

For the moment, he is remaining tight-lipped about the identities of other pubs being considered.

Champs was a ‘first’ for Sheffield when it opened in 1995, a partnership between real ale boss Dave Wickett and former Sheffield footballer David Ford.

An American-style restaurant and cocktail bar, it featured booth seating, a vast three-sided bar and more than 30 television sets suspended from vantage points. It also boasted an impressive collection of sports memorabilia including the canopy of Damon Hill’s Brabham, Dicky Bird’s white coat and Prince Naseem’s shorts.

Thornbridge Brewery founder Jim Harrison bought out David Ford a couple of years ago and tried to take the restaurant upmarket – but the changes met a cool reception and six months later, chicken wings and fajitas were back on the menu.

Now Dave Wickett, who has bone cancer, is retiring and Mr Harrison and his BrewKitchen partners want to bring the business into their expanding group.

“We see it as a great opportunity to build a new business on what is rapidly becoming a new type of Ecclesall Road,” said Mr Webster. “With the arrival of Marks & Spencer, Sheffield’s top hairdresser and a flagship Pizza Express, the old ‘golden mile’ has had a breath of fresh air and we want to add to that.

“Champs has been a phenomenon over the last 15 years but we think the area has moved on and we will be offering something more in keeping with the current vibrant community.”

The restaurant will run until the middle of March, when it will close for redevelopment. The memorabilia will then be sold off in a high-profile charity auction.