Food and bars group responding to tech-savvy sector

Matt Farrell and John Ennis
X The Business Desk

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The mobile phone is now shaping the future of the leisure industry.

Leading bars and restaurants group Graffiti Spirits says social media is now the big influencer when it comes to new product and venues.

The Liverpool-based group said the industry has changed dramatically since the company was founded 10 years ago.

Owners Matt Farrell and John Ennis said young consumers now judge brands instantly through social media.

Matt told “Everything starts on the phone, now.

“Ten years ago it was word of mouth. Now, you are selling product and experience before people have actually got there to have a look.

“The influence the phone has on young people is huge. It is pretty scary. Things used to take a while to snowball, but now …”

Graffiti Spirits has long been a leader in the Liverpool leisure market.

Its brands include Santa Chupitos – famous for its unique $5 shakes served in milk bottles – underground tequileria El Bandito, steins and brines specialist Salt Dog Slims, speakeasy cocktail bar 81 Ltd, pizza rodizio Santa Maluco, popular cafe Bold Street Coffee and the now permanent Castle Street Coffee, plus the newly-opened Duke Street Market, set in a 150-year-old warehouse which offers six kitchens, two bars, and a 52-cover showpiece restaurant.

The group currently employs 140 staff, but over the past 10 years it says it has created employment opportunities for more than 1,000 people.

Now, with an eye to new tech’s influence on the industry, they aim to stay ahead of the curve.

They recently announced two new ventures, Slim’s, a high-end New York diner-inspired set-up which is set to open on the city’s Bold Street, and 16 Bit Chicken, which will replace their Slim Pork Chop’s Express site on neighbouring Seel Street.

John explained: “16 Bit Chicken will be a gourmet chicken takeaway and a speakeasy in the rear with 16 retro games available, such as Tetris and Street Fighter.”

He says it will be unique: “There’s a few of these opening up as a gimmick, but none of them will be child-friendly.”

Slim’s Pork Chop Express

Matt says it fits the bill as trends develop at an alarming pace: “The industry is more experiential now.

“The trends of social media and people’s needs are diversifying.

“You have places now offering things like axe-throwing, indoor golf etc. They’re breaking the boundaries.”

John added: “Everyone is trying to catch up, and that is why you are seeing a lot of new concepts on the market.”

With a decade in business under their belts they are cautious about their next steps. They believe a period of consolidation is inevitable, given the current market uncertainty ahead of Brexit, but further expansion, nevertheless, beckons.

Matt said: “We need to consolidate what we have got before looking further afield.”

They believe business will remain becalmed until Brexit is sorted, one way or another.

John said: “After Brexit, whichever way it goes, people will have more confidence in the markets and more insight into what may, or may not happen.”

And Matt sees access to growth funding improving after Brexit’s October 31 deadline: “There’s a lot of money just waiting there to be invested.”

Once the picture is clearer, they revealed they are looking further afield for more growth.

John said: “London and Manchester are the most obvious options.

“We did an El Bandito pop-up in London a few years ago. That’s a brand that can be rolled out.”