Two brothers who followed their father into the pub trade have overcome cynics and staff shortages to open a second bar in their home village in 14 months, creating nearly 30 jobs in the process.
Chris and Simon Leahy admitted they were taking a gamble with plans to open Raph’s Lounge so soon after the launch in August last year of Cassiel Bar and Kitchen, which is across the road in Cottingham, East Yorkshire.
But the success of Cassiel built confidence among customers and in turn helped Chris and Simon overcome the challenges of recruiting a team in an industry hit hard by staff shortages.
The outcome is the addition of two modern bars to a village well-served by traditional pubs, including The Tiger and the Blue Bell which were both run by Terry Leahy and his wife Shirley when the brothers were growing up.
The new bars are named after the archangels Cassiel and Raphael. Cassiel was created by transforming a vacant retail unit and Raph’s Lounge has opened following the renovation of the former NatWest bank in Cottingham.
Chris said: “It has been a tough time for this industry and some people warned us against launching a second venture so soon after Cassiel but we’re seeing as many covers in the middle of the week as we were on a Friday and Saturday.
“As the months have passed we’ve seen increasing confidence among the older groups when people have had their second doses of the vaccine. Business has certainly exceeded our expectations and it’s not just about food. We’ve found that customers at Cassiel are staying around and enjoying a drink after the kitchen has closed.”
Simon added: “Recruitment hasn’t been easy because not many people were prepared to commit to the hours we need but altogether we’ve now got a team of nearly 30 across both venues and they can work flexibly because the bars are so close together. If one place is quiet and the other one is busy all our staff have to do is cross the road to help out.
“We opened Cassiel because we felt the village needed something different. The customers have responded to the offer of great food and drink in a nice environment, and Raph’s will be different again.”
Steaks and pizzas feature prominently on the menu at Raph’s Lounge seven days a week, and the venison option brings back memories of more than 20 years ago when it was a favourite dish served by Terry and Shirley at the Blue Bell.
Sunday lunch specials will be added to the menu in the coming weeks and Christmas packages will be added to the website soon.
Chris and Simon also intend to establish Raph’s Lounge as an entertainment venue, reviving Cottingham’s live music scene with performances from local bands and singers.
Simon said: “We plan to have different types of music on different nights of the week and we’ve currently got bands booked as far ahead as February. Essentially Raph’s Lounge is a hybrid venue catering for diners, drinkers and music fans. We’re aware that quite a few people get the train from Cottingham for nights out in Hull and Beverley and we think we can attract more people from those places to come here.”