Duo build on success of micro-brewery business with bar launch
Two best friends with a shared passion for craft ale have taken on their first bar in Leamington, building on the success of their micro-brewery business.
Gavin Leach and Rob Singleton, who own Windmill Hill Brewing Company, have opened the doors to 44 Café Bar and Bistro as part of the latest chapter of the brand’s growth.
The pair, who met as students at Coventry University, have come a long way since launching the business in Gavin’s garage six years ago. They now hope to reach even more consumers through the Clarendon Street venue, formerly Casa Valle, with their extensive combined knowledge of craft beer.
It’s a particularly emotional milestone for Singleton, a former personal trainer who is now confined to a wheelchair following a car crash 12 years ago which severed his spine.
“I spent nine months hospitalised and going through rehabilitation and suddenly a couple of years had gone by and I just didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I was a fit guy before the accident and had had aspirations to be a physiotherapist,” he said.
“I didn’t know how limited the job market would prove to be with me being disabled. I can’t sit at a desk for eight hours because I have a lot of pain in my shoulders. So I decided to take my future into my own hands and asked Gavin if he wanted to start a business with me. Gavin was a huge support. He had a good job and took a big risk stepping away from that to set up with me.”
Leach turned his back on his career in pharmaceuticals to establish Windmill Hill Brewery with Rob in 2017. Since then the brewery, which operates out of Victoria Business Centre in Neilston Street, has gone on to create award-winning seasonal and limited-edition beers, found on sale in an increasing number of independent shops and bars across south Warwickshire.
Their thirst for success also led them to their next venture when, in 2021, they opened The Barge and Quarterdeck, a popular 60-foot floating bar and pizza kitchen in Stratford’s canal basin.
But they hope the latest – and biggest – project to date will help even further establish their brand in the local community, with plans for a host of special events also already in the mix.
Singleston said: “When we make beers we make them with food in mind. Beers taste different with different foods, just like wine, and we wanted a place where we could showcase that. Food and drink is a really interesting world to be in.
“Our food is inspired by the way we like to eat and drink. Tapas – small plates of food simply done but done well, with big flavour and that lend themselves to be enjoyed with certain drinks.
“Tapas is mainly enjoyed with lager and wine so we wanted to introduce some English craft ale as well and show people that the complex profiles of ale also complement the profiles of the food we have.”
He added: “We want 44 to complement the wider Leamington food and drink offering as a vibrant café in the daytime, Tapas bistro into the early evening and high quality drinks spot for the evening crowd.”
The venue also offers a set-price Sunday lunch, breakfast and a daily Specials board, overseen by Head Chef Lee Mallen, from Birmingham and formerly front of house manager at Revive in Warwick.
While the bar, which serves all of Windmill Hill’s beers, continues to be under the expert care of Luke Hampson, who stayed on as front of house manager and mixologist after several years in role.
Leach said: “We take every aspect of this business seriously. We’re a big cocktail place, we’re a big craft beer place, and we take our wines very seriously too, so it’s the whole package.
“Rob says I made a sacrifice for him, but the way I see it, he had the confidence in us and the belief we could achieve what we set out to. I gave up a role that would have seen me sit behind a desk all day generating paperwork, whereas now I get the chance to work with my passion and follow something from grain to glass.
“To produce something from start to finish and see it enjoyed within a mile of where it was produced is amazing. It’s a great feeling when you see someone drink a pint of one of your beers and you think to yourself, I made that.”