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The man behind Islington’s Best Bar shares his secrets

We sat down with the man behind whimsical Shoreditch bar Callooh Callay and its more grown-up sister Little Bat Bar in Islington to hear his remarkable story.

Richard Wynne has an eye for business and a knack for hospitality. The 39-year-old from Stoke Newington, has been working in the bar industry for 20 years and runs two of North London’s most popular and award-winning bars.

The Little Bat Bar was recently crowned Best Bar in Islington and Best New Venue by Design my Night (2016/17). Local Buyers Club members save 20% on their legendary brunches, which includes buttermilk chicken with Belgium waffles, hot sauce and pickled cucumber, salmon cured in-house with dill mayo, grapefruit and fennel on toasted sourdough.

 (Pic credit : Charlie McKay)

Richard studied fashion at Nottingham University but wasn’t drawn to a career in that field. He started working in the Pitcher and Piano while he made up his mind and quickly started taking on more responsibility.  A couple of management courses later and at the tender age of 24 he became assistant manager of their Trafalgar Square pub.

He said: “I definitely fell into bar work by accident but then I met Scott Hunter who now owns a string of pubs and he became a real mentor to me.  His passion and knowledge is infectious and he has a system for everything to make sure things run smoothly – he instilled a certain philosophy in me and a real work ethic.”

(Little Bat Bar. Pic credit Charlie McKay)

Richard went on to work as General Manager at Lounge Lover in Bethnal Green, he made some shrewd business decisions such as convincing bankers to hold their parties there, hosting Madonna’s 48th birthday and cutting down the overheads on cocktails, which tripled their profits.  But Richard was demoralised at the end of the year when his plea for a pay-rise was greeted with a handshake and a mediocre bonus and he decided it was time for a fresh start.

He added: “I realised I could do this on my own. The financial crisis had just started, bars and restaurants were going bust and landlords couldn’t give them away. I thought ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’

“I went to RBS and they offered a £150,000 loan – on that basis I signed a 25-year lease on a bar in Shoreditch. But they changed their minds and ended up just giving me a £10,000 overdraft.  It was a frightening moment, but I got out my Excel spreadsheets and realised that, if I bought stock on the first of the month, I didn’t have to pay for it until the end of the following month. As long as I could sell all the stock in time, I’d be fine.”

Richard found a team of trusted employees and set about transforming the bar into Callooh Callay, a whimsical space where cocktails are served in grammar-phones and a there’s a room hidden behind a wardrobe door.  They opened in 2008.

He added: “Nowadays, especially with social media, you need to do more than just serve good drinks – people want to show their friends how cool the space they’re drinking in is.”

His girlfriend Kate (now his wife) was heavily involved behind the scenes. The couple opened a restaurant ‘Beard to Tail’ soon after but it wasn’t the success they’d hoped, and they closed it in 2014.

They learnt from their mistakes, and in 2016 opened Little Bat Bar in Islington Park Street, serving delicious small plates, sharing boards and fabulous brunches.

 (Pic credit: Charlie McKay)

Richard added: “The décor in Little Bat Bar isn’t as whimsical as Callooh Callay – it’s more grown up to suit the neighbourhood. The front section is inspired by a botanical garden and the middle section by a portrait gallery. This is somewhere you can eat good food and enjoy a really good aperitif or digestif.”

Richard employs a staff of 40 mainly full-time staff across the two sites. When he’s not working, he’s a dad to his 18-month-old daughter Darcy.

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