Duncan Sime and Ola Dabrowska, who run the independent wine shop, were forced to pivot their business, and added more organic produce to their range to help support local people to get the goods they needed when shortages hit supermarkets at the beginning of the first lockdown. They had been dreaming of opening a wine-bar at the time and had to put that idea on hold and focus on keeping their business running. As a shop selling essential produce, they kept their doors open and made an immediate turn to add fresh food and groceries to their shop, increasing their sales by 80 per cent during the pandemic.
Duncan, who lives in nearby Birkby, said: “The original plan was to make Kwas into a relaxing wine bar with an off-licence and potentially offering some food. We had to shelve our plans for the bar once the pandemic hit because we couldn’t have people drinking inside. That was 70 per cent of our revenue gone. Fortunately, we had minimal overhears and received a three-month rent break, extended by a further month, from The Arch Company, which really helped us.
“We originally set up to give people in Huddersfield the opportunity to taste natural wines, free from chemicals. We struggled to find the vegan wine we wanted in the supermarket and no other wine bar was doing what we do. It’s quite niche and risky, but it has paid off. The shop was never fully fitted, and we only had three fixed shelves, so we could move everything around completely. That gave us the flexibility to rethink. It seems very natural for us to sell other organic produce side-by-side with our wines. People are more conscious about what they are putting in their bodies – their mindset has changed. It was slowly changing before the pandemic, but now it’s been fast-forwarded.”
“We served good wines and we just thought what’s the next thing we need? Organic veg is now our unique selling point. We surrounded ourselves with stuff that we like, and our customers seem to like it too. We set up a temporary website overnight and now sell veg boxes and groceries sourced from Organic North – the largest organic produce wholesaler in the north of England. What people get from us is the freshest produce.”
Kwas’ Huddersfield railway arch has turned out to be perfect for them for many reasons. Duncan said: “You can see us on the way from the station at the top end of the street, so the position on the main road is ideal. We wouldn’t have had as much success in a city centre location; the affordability of where we are is a strong factor. What we didn’t know at first, but found out in time is that the temperature in an arch is cooler than outside, so it’s perfect for wine storage, which is a nice bonus.”
Having made a success of pivoting their business during the first two waves of the pandemic, Duncan and Ola were reluctant to give up their original dream of running a wine bar. At the end of 2020, they revived their plans. With their three-year lease due for renewal, they decided to go ‘full steam ahead’ and rent a neighbouring, bigger, arch that would allow them to bring their vision together in a larger space. With banks cautious about lending money, they launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £15,000 to fit out the new arch. Duncan said: “The wine bar is an idea that has always been at the back of our minds. We never intended to run a shop, and it seemed a shame to let the bar idea go. Then we realised we wouldn’t be able to stick to the original plan because we didn’t have enough space for it. The crowdfunder has worked really well. We’ve had around 100 pledges and we’re aiming for it to be an investment opportunity, where people will feel they own a part of the business and we establish a new customer base. Investors will receive special offers and access to special suppers and food vendors.” Kwas will reopen in their larger premises in July 2021, with a wine bar and seating area, a new kitchen, and enhanced grocery section with a new deli and baked goods area.
2 Viaduct St, Huddersfield