Local pubs with heart

Beer and spirits are central to operators’ outlets

Kilderkin owners James and Jacqueline Nisbet

GOOD beer and spirits could be described as the beating heart of Edinburgh pubs group Kilderkin.

The company, led by husband and wife team James and Jacqueline Nisbet, operates four units across the capital (five, counting restaurant La Petite Mort, which adjoins the group’s Bennets Bar in Tollcross).

Although each of the sites has a different clientele, a focus on quality beer and spirits runs through every venue.

The company was formed in 2010 when the couple took on the lease of The Windsor on Leith Walk.

Despite having looked for a lease for some time they were hesitant when first approached by pub company Star Pubs & Bars.

“My first reaction was that I didn’t want a pub in Leith, because it wasn’t an area I knew,” said Jacqueline.

“But the first time we went down to have a look at it we fell in love, because it was the kind of place we would have been drinking in; it was quite traditional, with a  lovely big gantry and a beautiful bar.”

Having taken on the lease the Nisbets set about expanding the offer in a way that would become familiar in the coming years; broadening the bar’s drinks range in order to appeal to a wider customer base while retaining its established regulars.

Ale was already popular in the pub, so the couple added more draught lines from local brewers, as well as stocking the gantry with a selection of quality spirits.

In 2011 Star approached them again, this time with a unit in the old town.

The Heineken-owned pub company was looking for an operator that could build a new customer base from the ground up and the pair accepted the challenge, taking on the unit and renaming it Kilderkin.

Introducing an offer of pizza, real ale and spirits, the Nisbets began to establish their new venue with tourists and locals as well as MSPs from the nearby parliament.

In addition to the food and drinks ranges, a weekly pub quiz has proved popular with locals, while a stack of maps is used by staff to recommend restaurants and attractions to visiting tourists.

The two units kept the couple busy and there were no plans to grow the business further.

But 2014 had other ideas.

The year would see the company become a group with the addition of two new leases, both with G1-owned Iona Pub Partnership.

The first, The Blue Blazer on Spittal Street, was a pub James had spent a decade running for its former lessee.

“When we had the two pubs there was no intention for a third,” said James.

“But because it was a place I’d worked for years, knew inside out and knew how much money it was able to make, we couldn’t really say no.”

A historic pub that’s been serving Edinburgh punters since the 19th century, The Blue Blazer – like The Windsor before it – already had a strong reputation in its locality, both for its beers (the bar boasts 16 draught lines, nine of which are free of tie) and for rum: a category James had first started to build as manager in the early 2000s.

Bennets, in Tollcross, followed later that year.

Another historic city pub, the Bennets lease was also an unplanned expansion.

“I remember sitting in [Bennets] six years ago and thinking ‘this is a beautiful pub, if we could get this pub it’d be great’,” said Jacqueline.

“The timing wasn’t ideal, by any means, but it is an absolutely stunning venue and had a lot of potential as well.”

A focus on quality beer and spirits run through every venue.

The conversion of a space at the rear of the property into a restaurant (Le Petite Mort) fulfilled part of that potential, and Kilderkin Group now found itself operating five venues in its native city.

The Nisbets remain the company owners, with ops manager Tom Wilding helping oversee some of the day-to-day running of the units.

And while the couple aren’t ruling out any more acquisitions, the focus is on the existing estate and the group’s team of 35 staff.

Incentives and perks such as flexi-time are already in place, and the Nisbets are determined the company should be known as a good place to work in order to attract the best staff.

“The staff are so important to your offer,” said James.

“It doesn’t matter how good your food and drinks are if you’ve not got someone out front who is being nice to the customers. And that’s all it is: just being nice to folk. That’s what hospitality’s all about.”