A couple have revealed why they ditched their high-flying careers and used their life savings to open a pub – despite never having poured a pint in their lives.
Claire Whalley, 42, and her husband Tim, 41 had never worked behind a bar when they decided to gamble £60,000 of their savings on starting their own craft beer business in an old train shed.
The couple, who live in Barry Island, South Wales, with their Labrador, Darcy, also ditched their lucrative salaries working in marketing.
While they have no regrets, fulfilling a lifelong dream hasn’t been easy with stress and depleting funds often leaving them wondering if they’d made a mistake.
“There were times that we would just sit and cry together,” Claire, owner of Craft Republic, told Jam Press.
“I remember sobbing on the living room floor from the stress and exhaustion.
“We couldn’t pay ourselves a wage.
“We had put £60,000 of our own money, our life savings, into making it a success, but there were times we thought we could lose it all.”
The couple had a rocky start due to the launch date, too – opening the bar in March 2020, but soon having to close their doors again, as coronavirus took hold.
For Claire especially, who had become a single mum aged just 15 (with a former partner), it was important they succeed.
Claire said: “I’d been told in the past that I’d never amount to anything after having a teenage pregnancy and I’ve always felt I had a lot to prove.
“Over the years we have proven that we have the skills and tenacity to succeed, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been upsetting or stressful.”
The couple met in Cardiff in 2007 through work and just a year later, Tim moved in with Claire and her son, not named for privacy reasons.
They married two years later and it was on a honeymoon to San Francisco that Claire discovered a love for craft beer.
Once back home to South Wales, the pair went on adventures to find new bars offering exciting beer flavours.
A decade and hundreds of pints later, they decided to take the plunge launching their own fully independent craft beer bar and bottle shop in Barry.
They did all the work on the property themselves.
Claire said: “Part of the reason we wanted to open a bar in our neighbourhood was that we were so fed up with having to travel 30 minutes to get a decent pint. People told us our town wasn’t ready for something new but we created it for ourselves and hoped others would come.
“Opening Craft Republic has been a carefully executed risk.
“By this point, our son was settled in his own place and because we had so many working years left we decided that if we lost everything, at least we could restart our corporate careers and our son wouldn’t be homeless.
“We built the brand and bar from scratch ourselves.
“From designing the layout for the architects to the website.
“But first we had to clear it out; the old train shed we rented from a developer was still full of engine parts, pallets and rubbish from the tracks.
“Once we had an empty space to work with, Tim literally built the bar by hand using wood from parquet flooring.
“And I painted the walls and wallpapered the toilet.
“We have watched a lot of YouTube tutorials and barely slept for months.
“Once the pandemic hit we were bereft but adapted quickly.
“Soon the bar had queues around the corner for canned beers and we even started a click-and-collect service which is still in operation.”
Claire has certainly proved nay-sayers wrong, with the couple’s bar winning the title of UK’s Best Independent Craft Beer Bar from the Society of Independent Brewers in 2022 – and achieving a turnover of £500,000.
Their site includes a bottle shop with a canning machine for people to take freshly poured draught beer home.
Not content with just designing and creating a bar from scratch Tim and Claire then started an “accidental” second business when their house gin spiralled to become whole spirits range and new company.
Now the Barry Island Spirits Co gins and rums have been awarded a Great Taste award and are stocked in Heston Blumenthal’s Michelin Star restaurant, the Hinds Head in Bray, Berkshire.
Claire added: “When we launched Barry Island gin we thought we’d sell a bottle a week max.
“But the demand surprised us. In four months, we sold 2,000 bottles.
“For 2023 we want to get out on the road and go to food and music festivals.
“For us, it’s the right mix of creativity, hard work and spending time together, all of our favourite things.”