Sports Bar And Grill was established in 2008 at a time of deep recession that saw many pubs in London calling time for good. The chain opened its first bar at Marylebone station with a clear objective – to offer commuters and particularly sports fans a clean, tidy environment to take time out, watch the game and dine in style while waiting for their connection.
Food was top of the bill, the enterprise priding itself on being a restaurant that showed sport, as opposed to a sports pub, so the company focused on using fresh fish, fresh meat and fresh bread from local, artisan bakers.
It follows a model made popular on the other side of the Atlantic.
“The Americans have it down to T,” said the company’s operations director Jane White.
“Everywhere you stand you can see a screen, and the food is made in an open restaurant kitchen, so customers can see who is preparing their food. It’s a very open and engaging environment.”
The firm progressed to Victoria station, then Waterloo and most recently, a flagship property at Canary Wharf.
The Crossrail Place branch opened in May 2015 and won the New Business category at The Wharf Innovation In Business Awards 2016.
It was an equally strategic move given the fact the Elizabeth line is set to start running in 2018.
Meanwhile there are plenty of businesses (and a significant number of Americans) in the Canary Wharf area providing custom for such an enterprise.
Jane and the company’s managing director David Evans have worked together for 18 years, both working previously in hospitality at locations across the UK.
Their job involved a lot of travel by train.
“David is very sports oriented and any place that could serve a cold pint, hot food and allow us to watch a game held great appeal,” said Jane.
It was through such trips the pair recognised a gap in the market.
They felt it would appeal to sports fans, who usually take trains to see their games, as well as commuters and families.
Part of the reason its success is that each bar is able to show four games at once, each displayed on screens in four isolated sound zones.
The Canary Wharf venue, for example, has zones built around the entrance bar, balcony bar, main bar and restaurant.
The acoustics are designed to accommodate the sports commentary, watched on 45-55-inch screens and heard through high quality Bose speakers.
“Each of those screens can be individually altered to accommodate customer requests,” said Jane.
“They may want cricket in one area and rugby in another. You don’t want to have to hear both.
“Each new customer coming for a particular event is catered for on an individual basis, we find out what sport they want to watch so they can be seated in the appropriate zone.”
Sports Bar And Grill’s output isn’t limited to sport however. Last year its venues showed other key events such as the US election primaries and key television fixtures of interest to the chain’s potential customers.
David and Jane are looking for new sites this year, but in the meantime they are focusing on introducing more interactive games.
Sports fans tend to have a competitive streak, so the company is installing high-end pool tables and gaming suites.
“People love interactive games on their phones, but we want to make it so people can have interact through physical games after dining,” said Jane.
Expect a Canary Wharf pool league before long. And, as you might expect, It’s even taking reservations for the Superbowl, having acquired a late licence for the event.
All in all, it’s the story of a company born in the midst of a double dip recession that demonstrates the advantage of a clear vision built around not just commuter trends, but getting the basics right in the right place for success.
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