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Ben Rose on The Angel Microbrewery, Lockdown Recovery and Vegetarian Cooking

14 September 20 interview: Christina Geggus
photos: Fabrice Gagos

Any regular visitors to The Angel Microbrewery or The Golden Fleece will be familiar with Ben Rose. Having turned two of Notts’ most iconic pubs around, he’s one of the city’s original purveyors of veggie food, with both pubs offering a full menu of meat-free options. And if that wasn’t enough, he even dedicated his kitchen to the Open Kitchens project during lockdown, providing hundreds of meals for those most in need. Christina Geggus caught up with him to find out more...

Having grown up in a small village on the outskirts of Coventry, Ben Rose was eager to see what the rest of the world had to offer. So, at the age of nineteen, he set off travelling for two and half years. “I ended up starting my own bar in Melbourne, and when I came back to England, I was dead set on wanting to own my own place,” he recalls. By the age of 24 he had opened The Alley Cafe which, at the time, was one of the only places in Nottingham serving vegetarian and vegan cuisine.

“I turned vegetarian from the age of 21 as I believe in the strong benefits of being vegan and vegetarian. For me, it’s all about eating a balanced diet and the right types of food,” he explains. This ethos and love for good food was appreciated by many, and he soon became the household name of vegetarian and vegan food in Nottingham.

After years of working hard running The Alley Cafe and thinking of ways to extend his business, Ben took on various other projects, such as running the kitchen at the Rescue Rooms and pop-up catering events, as he explains “I am always wanting to push my options and keep trying new things.” As if that wasn’t enough, Ben also put on three of his own festivals and ran bars at Nottingham’s much-loved music festival Splendour. 

Armed with the ambition of continuing to grow his business options, Ben found himself as the owner of two of Nottingham’s most iconic pubs, The Angel and The Golden Fleece, something he had not quite foreseen in his life plan. “Originally, I was looking to open another Alley Café in Hockley. I went to look at a new building with the landlord,” Rose explains, “The lease for that building had already been signed that morning, but he told me about another building around the corner that he wanted to show me.” He continues, “We walked around the corner and it was the Old Angel, I was like, ‘You are joking?’ When I moved to Nottingham in 2000, it was the first pub I ever went into in Nottingham as a few of my mates lived up here for university.”

We have a venue in which the bar itself holds 200 people and a music venue holds another 110, but we are now at the capacity of 90 people max

But with just three weeks to make the biggest decision of his life, Ben went with his gut: “It was rough around the edges, this kind of crowd and a bit more my kind of scene, so the rest I figured out along the way, which is generally my synopsis to business”. And with that, Ben Rose was the new owner of The Angel Microbrewery, not quite able to believe that he had the opportunity to save one of Nottingham’s most loved and historical pubs.

Wanting to maintain its history and character came with a massive pressure alongside his previous vegetarian and vegan impact he had on the city, and the inevitability of knowing that he would have to serve meat in his pubs. “If I eliminated carnivores out of the situation, I wouldn’t be here now,” he tells me. 

He battled with opinions on his choice of menu and many feared that he would gentrify The Old Angel into a ‘hipster pub’. “You just have to ride these storms”, he contonies, “if anything, I think I have opened it up as a bigger platform for people who want to springboard into the music industry”. Since then, he’s showcased a diverse array of live music, such as heavy metal, hardcore thrash bands, death metal, indie, dance and electronica.

The resurgence has not been without its setbacks, however, most notably with the recent pandemic, which has made an already difficult industry almost impossible to survive in: “It is one of hardest industries to go into and it’s a lifestyle, not a job. I am at work all the time and my phone goes constantly, but that’s just how it is”.

Lockdown has made the food and beverage industry hit an all-time low, but Ben appreciated that there were many people in states of crisis. That was the main reason behind his decision to take part in the Open Kitchen scheme, allowing his kitchens to be used to create meals for those in need in the community: “The community and society of Nottingham have helped me to get to where I am and I believe these acts are just a small way of me showing my appreciation”.

I have 27 people working for me and have feared over this period that they could lose their jobs. That really hurts me as I care for my staff and believe they make the business

Post-lockdown, Ben has made some significant changes to the way he runs his businesses, believing that it is important for the industry to get back on their feet: “We have a venue in which the bar itself holds 200 people and a music venue holds another 110, but we are now at the capacity of 90 people max, While spending twice as much on labour costs for additional cleaners, a whole new risk assessment and ensuring social distancing is adhered to by customers. You have to adapt to survive”.

Like Ben, many are frightened that the likes of Wetherspoons and Greene King may take over many areas in place of independents that don’t have the same financial safety net, warning that, “We will become one homogenised city”. However, with great support from customers during the lockdown, he expressed that “the city has a real comradery and I really value it. I don’t think I would be here today if it wasn’t for the support of my friends, customers and the people in both the food and music industry here”.

Although many things have been put on hold, Ben plans to continue spreading his positive energy in Nottingham and hopes to come back to many of the grand plans he had: “I have 27 people working for me and have feared over this period that they could lose their jobs. That really hurts me as I care for my staff and believe they make the business”.

Ben hopes he can maintain what he is doing and be in a secure and safe position for years to come, providing great pub grub and beer to his much loved city.

The Angel Microbrewery, 7 Stoney St NG1 1LG

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