“The firm is ahead of the curve,” claimed Kane Yeardley, surveying the results of a £250,000 refit of his bar, The Forum, on Devonshire Street in Sheffield city centre.
“We’re growing when opportunities arise – being able to produce your own beers, gins and coffee is where the industry’s going.”
There’s little doubt that True North Brew Co, the firm Kane founded, knows what Sheffield’s pubgoers and diners want out of their venues.
Having gradually expanded after starting with The Forum nearly 23 years ago, the group now has an annual turnover of more than £10 million, employing about 400 staff across its sites.
The company’s roster of venues has now reached double figures, too. A 10th pub has just been added to the list – the Waggon and Horses in Millhouses, which reopens on February 18.
Following on from its makeovers of places such as The York in Broomhill, and The Broadfield on Abbeydale Road, the firm plans to step up its work with the community, a philosophy that links with plans to transform Walkley Library, as well as the possibility of taking over The Plough at Sandy-gate.
At the Waggon and Horses the spotlight will be on craft ales and freshly-prepared pub food, with a particular focus on breakfasts.
“People are more interested in stuff that’s produced locally,” said Kane, who explained that he ‘thought it was time to change’ The Forum.
True North’s senior interior designer Theresa Lang came up with the concept of ‘visually connecting’ the bar with its brewery and gin distillery, at the back of the venue off Eldon Street. The lightshades are made from copper – reminiscent of the stills used to produce gin – while the parquet flooring was reclaimed from an old public building in Scotland.
Meanwhile, head brewer Dean Hollingworth has prepared a new pale ale – Eldon Pale – to coincide with the Forum relaunch, along with two new keg beers.
Kane was especially keen to show off the new ‘Slice Bar’ – so-called because customers will be able to buy single slices of pizza with a craft beer, an idea imported from Belgrave Dance Hall in Leeds, where it’s proved popular.
“The thing is, it’s authentic – what you’re drinking has been produced next door,” he said. “We’re moving with the times and what people want.”
Further expansion will be part of True North’s future, it seems. Kane said he prefers sites with ‘love marks’ – pubs that were successful in the past, but perhaps need to be spruced up with a new direction to bring about a revival.
Around £150,000 has been invested in the Waggon and Horses, generating 50 jobs, he revealed, adding: “Up until the 1990s it was a really popular pub. We’re going to emphasise brilliant, healthy all-day breakfasts, which is what people want when they go to Millhouses Park, and good, healthy kids’ food. I think it’s an undervalued asset, especially since the Beauchief closed.”
While acknowledging that it was an unusual observation, he remarked that the pub has potential as a venue for wakes following funerals at the nearby cemetery.
“When people go to wakes, they have children, and it’s a bit boring for them, but if you have a wake there you can say: ‘Go and play in the park while I’m catching up with my friends’. It’s been a discounted Flaming Grill, which is not what people want in Millhouses.”
People in Sheffield ‘definitely’ prefer locally-owned venues, Kane contended.
“Look at places like the Brothers Arms, and the Fat Cat in Kelham Island, where people bring others to them, because they’re proud they’re owned by Sheffield people. Tamper Coffee and Sellers Wheel are other examples. People are very supportive – which is nice because it’s hard sometimes. It’s not easy out there.”
He said: “I think Sheffield is about to turn a corner. There’s a lot of new blood coming in that will help it to improve its economic position. There’s a lot of small businesses that seem to be doing quite well again – after the recession people were very cautious with money. It’s pretty positive.”
True North also owns the Horse and Jockey, at Wadsley and the Norfolk Arms, Grenoside, which are both being rented to Stancill Brewery ahead of a total renovation, with new kitchens, in 2018.
Work is also pencilled in to start next year on turning Walkley Library into a shared space with a cafe bar.
A planning application by True North for an extension and changes to the interior was approved last April.
However, the scheme is now dependent on the outcome of an application for a heritage grant after the budget spiralled.
“We were a bit naive,” Kane admitted. “The scheme was quite ambitious to cater for everyone’s needs. Originally it was going to be ‘There’s the building, let’s see if we can split it in half’. Well, the library needs a lot more space. Originally we had a budget of £500,000, but to do this was more like £1m.”
A verdict on the grant is expected as early as March.
Kane said it was ‘important’ to save the Grade II listed Edwardian building, one of the last surviving Carnegie Libraries – built with money donated by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie – in Yorkshire.
“I think it’s a lovely building and the local group is incredible at running the library and getting other people in.”
‘I’d buy The Plough – but it’s not for the faint-hearted’
True North Brew Co would be interested in buying The Plough at Sandygate, should it be put on the market by owners Enterprise Inns, said Kane Yeardley.
The Plough – registered as an ‘asset of community value’ – was the subject of a failed planning application to create a Sainsbury’s convenience store.
Campaigners who fought to save the pub have put forward the idea of a venue reflecting the site’s sporting heritage, opposite Hallam FC, the world’s oldest football ground.
“The Plough is really interesting,” said Kane. “If Enterprise decide to sell it, I’d be interested in buying it, and I would love to work with the local group. The beauty of the group is they’re passionate, they’re driven, and they’re focused, so you could work with them on the design, the menu, and what charity events you were going to do.”
He said the building would need renovations costing more than £400,000.
“The Plough is not for the faint-hearted. The building is in quite a bad state of repair.”
But he added: “We would find the funds somewhere. We’ve got a very good relationship with Barclays.”
However, Kane ruled out taking over The Psalter.
“It’s not one that’s got ‘love marks’ for me. It’s a hotel, and hotels are not something we’re good at. It hasn’t got a great outside area. It’s a funny one.”