“Accept you will probably never be rich, you’ll always be a bit tired and the glass washing machine will ALWAYS explode on the busiest night you’ve had”
For almost five years we’ve written hundreds of story, brought together thousands of people to read them and typed out millions of words. Whilst we’ve always focused on what’s in front of the counter, very recently we’ve delved behind the business and told the story of the person behind it. The highs and the lows, the trials and tribulations, the Pina and the colada. This brings us quite nicely onto Alison – a woman who leaves herself out of the limelight but is responsible for some of our favourite independents in the city. She went from quitting her secure and sound career as a teacher to a small coffee shop on Aigburth Road. From there she’s gone on to invent the famous punk afternoon tea that people travel for from all over the UK and opening one of Liverpool’s first Scandi-inspired venues. It’s a good story – we’ll let her tell it.
How did this whole journey start? What were you doing before onion? How many years did you have it for
Sooooo – it started when I turned thirty. I was teaching food tech in a secondary school, loved it but had always worked in and loved the industry from when I was a kid. I had loads of ideas and always had a hankering to have my own place. I really wanted to start a little deli cafe with homemade fresh food, ace sandwiches and salads and proper lovely breakfasts. One day at half term I Googled ‘shop to rent, Aigburth Road’ found a phone number, rang it, met the landlord that afternoon and signed a lease there and then. I had no money at all so quickly and with massively crossed fingers applied for a tiny personal loan and managed to kit the whole place out for about 5 grand. We opened 4 weeks later. I had it for 4 years and in that time moved to a bigger premises where it still is today and is now owned by a lovely couple, Kerry and Barry. Kerry used to work in Onion and it’s totally retained that community cafe vibe which was so important.
When did Baltic Social open? How did you come up with punk afternoon tea?
Baltic Social opened in late 2013. It was already an elevator cafe and as soon as I walked in I loved it. The Baltic Triangle area was still pretty sparse but we knew it was a great location and a great building. We shut for a week, made some small interior changes, completely changed the food menu and changed all the beers and the Baltic Social was born! Punk afternoon tea came about some time after – I’d been helping to organise my friend Jenny’s hen do in Brighton and afternoon tea kept coming up as something to do but it wasn’t really for us – we weren’t really into that kind of thing… we were more into booze than pots of Earl Grey and burgers than cucumber sandwiches. So, yeah, I wondered if an alternative afternoon tea with less traditional food like burgers and hotdogs and sweets and things might work better so decided to see if it would work at Baltic. We never knew at that point how much it would take off! Since then we’ve had weddings that have it as their wedding meal, gangs of lads having it as part of their stag do, grannies, students, mothers and daughters, whole families – it seems to be something that’s for anyone and everyone which is pretty cool.
Tell us about HUS, how’s it going and where did the inspiration come from?
HUS… although we opened in late October 2016, we had secured the site way back in May 2015- it was a long journey to get from what was in my head to be designed and built. I remember going to see the site for the first time – a huge concrete brutalist building on Tithebarn St and falling in love with it straight away and knowing that it’d be perfect for an idea I had.
Both my business partner Craig and I thought it was a great site and so decided to go ahead and take a risk and do something completely different for the business district. I’d lived in Denmark for a short time in my early twenties and had always been obsessed with the whole Scandi vibe and was also pretty in love with the beauty of a lot of Scandi design. We did a few more reccies which basically involved a lot of eating and drinking in Stockholm and Copenhagen and it was clear this was the exact vibe we wanted to recreate in Liverpool.
We worked with an ace small design team – Along bird alley and R2a Architecture and somehow what I had in my head became a reality. Hus is going well – it’s still a pretty new concept for the business area, we’re open from 8.30am right through until late serving drinks and food and sometimes people want to know whether we are a bar OR a restaurant and the answer is always both. We’re called HUS for a reason – it’s house in Swedish and the whole idea is that it’s a home from home. You can eat there, drink there, do work in there, party in there, meet your mates for breakfast there and we really don’t care whether you’re wearing the right shoes or whether you’re dressed up or down – it’s a relaxed space. We also have a concrete bunker space KOLBOX where we host gigs, supper clubs, she nights, underground film, theatre and parties. It’s ace to have that kind of stuff happening in what is traditionally a business area. On sunny weekend we open a bar on the roof top which has some pretty incredible views over the city too, it’s ace.
You seem to be good at doing things first. You were one of the first businesses to sign up to the Local Liverpool Pound and Colu. What’s your opinions on Liverpool having its own currency for independent businesses?
Liverpool pound was something that when we heard about it we knew we had to be involved and so both HUS and Baltic Social signed up straight away. For those that don’t know, it’s like a digital wallet where you get rewarded for uploading money, get amazing deals and get the feeling of supporting local businesses. There’s such a thriving independent scene in Liverpool right now and we’re so proud to be part of it – anything that adds to that just makes sense. Encouraging people to spend locally and choose to use the Liverpool pound to buy their morning coffee or after work beer in an independent place rather than a chain just strengthens the local economy which is amazing.
If you like the sound of it, you can download it here.
Any advice for people in life who maybe want to take that risk?
Advice for anyone thinking of starting up and opening their own place? Oh wow…. I guess the most important thing is to do it for the right reason. That reason can only be that you love the idea or concept of something so much that you’re absolutely hell-bent on making it work, not just because you want to pay your bills but because you absolutely love what you’re creating. It’s also not easy – accept you will probably never be rich, you’ll always be a bit tired and the glass washing machine will ALWAYS explode on the busiest night you’ve had. Having said that – there’s no better feeling than when you walk in to your place and see people happy, eating, drinking, laughing and enjoying the space you created. All my places are my babies – they were built and made with love – that’s the most important thing of all.
So for anyone thinking of doing it – this business is hard, there’s long days and nights and you’ll probably never have a full night’s sleep again but it’s also a lot of fun, really rewarding and no day is the EVER the same. I think it’s the best job in the world. I’m also convinced that there’s no better city than Liverpool to be an independent business in right now… so if you have an idea, love it and are prepared to live it and breathe it then, yeah – go for it.