Lucy Do of The Dodo Micropub in Hanwell talks to us about the challenges of operating a food and beverage business throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
What is the background to your business?
I’m Lucy and I founded The Dodo Micropub in January 2017. Yes, I decided to open a pub in what’s traditionally the worst trading month for the hospitality sector! My business is in Hanwell, West London and prior to opening up my own micropub I spent over 14 years in marketing for publishing companies so completely unrelated to pubs, hospitality and craft beer!
I’m the sole Director and, being a micropub, it really is a small business so as well as still physically working shifts in the micropub I also wear all the business operation hats – business owner, financial controller, business development manager, HR, marketing, events coordinator, cleaner, cellar manager, chief beer taster. The list goes on!
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Micropubs have been around since 2005 but I visited my first ever micropub in 2014. I was your typical Londoner heading down to the Kent coast to escape the big smoke and, on a whim with little expectation, popped into The Just Reproach in Deal. That was my lightbulb moment. I fell in love with the micropub concept and its stripped back, friendly and unpretentious nature so started to wonder whether I could bring that to West London. I got made redundant in August 2015 and that was the real start of my micropub dream becoming a reality.
What is your point of difference?
We are a community focused, welcoming one room pub that promotes conversation as the main form of entertainment. There are no TVs and no music. Human connection is our love language and patrons of The Dodo Micropub are collectively and affectionately known as the Hanwell Massive!
We fiercely support independent producers and showcase a constantly rotating line up of craft beer from microbreweries. Being genuinely community orientated means we get to create lovely moments like patrons rallying together to throw a 70 year old his first ever birthday party. There have been some fun events like allotment swap shop days where locals get to trade excess allotment swag and Free Cheeseboard Sunday which happens once a month in collaboration with our local cheese deli.
How do you find working and operating in the food and beverage sector?
It is so exciting and so lovely! There’s a great sense of community in the wider industry so it’s a very wholesome environment. A far cry from tense and toxic corporate life! By and large people help and support each other, particularly in the craft beer and micropub world. It’s an incredibly innovative sector too as there is always something exciting launching, new to try, chef to follow – There’s so much to discover!
How do you spread the word about your business?
Mainly through social media and our own email data base. Instagram is my hero platform in terms of driving business and creating content. Once people come in and enjoy us enough to come back, it is traditional word of mouth!
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your business?
Hospitality was the second worst hit industry as a result of Covid after travel, so the better question is probably how hasn’t Covid-19 impacted my business! It was brutal financially (at worst 67% down when not forcibly closed completely). It was also brutal mentally as a solo business owner. Keeping up with the constant restrictions placed on hospitality was incredibly frustrating. Towards the end of 2020 there seemed to be a new ridiculous rule we had to adhere to every two weeks. Remember scotch egg gate and what exactly constitutes a substantial meal? All this reactive firefighting certainly became exhausting.
We did adapt incredibly well though. We set up a web shop for takeaway and delivery craft beer, launched our own gin, hosted online beer tastings for corporates, launched ‘enjoy at home’ food and delivered a 140-cover restaurant pop up in Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing so it wasn’t all bad.
What’s the hardest thing about running a business?
Trying to wear all the various hats and spin all the plates. It can get a little overwhelming sometimes.
Have you received any financial support for your business?
I launched the business with every penny of my own savings alongside a start-up loan from Virgin Start Ups. During the pandemic, I’ve also received the financial support from the Government in the form of grants. I didn’t take on a bounce back loan as I didn’t personally want to take on more debt.
What’s the best decision you’ve made so far?
Putting boundaries in place so I’m no longer working every waking hour of every day. Respecting my rest days and ‘behind the scenes’ business strategy days has been a game changer. Plus, hiring and outsourcing my weak spots where possible. An excellent accountant and bookkeeper is a must for me as numbers are not my strong point.
No regrets with setting up my own micropub. It’s such a fulfilling and enjoyable way to make a living but I now see business life would have been much easier if I’d discovered boundaries a lot sooner! I definitely experienced burn out in my first year through working too hard.
What’s next for your business?
First, the comeback post-Covid and getting ourselves firmly on the road to recovery, then ideally some more product launches and food and drink collaboration projects.
What are your top three golden rules for success?
- Know your core values as a business owner and stick to them.
- Believe in yourself.
- Don’t be a busy fool.