Don’t they grow up fast?
Save the date. On 29th September, Northern Quarter hangout Pen and Pencil will be celebrating their third birthday with a huge knees up – and everybody’s welcome. The free event promises to be a great evening, with glitter make up artists and big-named DJ’s such as main headliner The Reflex.
We sat down with owner Kevin Connor to try and discover the secret to their success.
Did you think Pen & Pencil would make it to their third birthday?
KC - "It’s a tough industry, but we always felt from day one that we had a great concept here and a great location. You’ve got to be confident in what you do and we’ve had three great years. We’ve grown each year and we’re very stable."
Our first order on the first Saturday morning was steak and eggs, an American breakfast and two Bloody Mary’s
Has the concept changed since the original version of it?
"We have stayed pretty true to it to be fair. The original concept was always to be a great place for food and coffee during the day, and then by night it’s more about cocktails, music, when we dim the lights and up the volume. Our first order on the first Saturday morning was steak and eggs, an American breakfast and two Bloody Mary’s. Three years on, they’re still the kind of orders we get on a Saturday morning."
You’ve got quite a reputation for brunches though haven’t you?
"We were one of the first to start the whole bottomless brunch concept, which we do on the last Saturday of the month and they’re always a sell out - as are our regular brunches. So that’s worked really well."
How have you seen the NQ change over the last three years?
"I think it has grown. More people visit the area, so it’s become more of a destination. When we first opened a lot of units were empty and we were a tad different. We tried to up the level a bit and I think that worked for us.
We are near the Piccadilly Basin end, near to Piccadilly station, so people pop in on their way there or back."
What would you say were the secrets to your success?
"We constantly evolve and try new things. If things aren’t working we stop doing them and we’re constantly improving our menu and what we offer. We also keep a keen eye on what is changing in the market. I’d also say the way we forward plan as a business is vital to where we are now. We’re also very open to feedback. On a weekly basis we look at our reviews and comments. We look at the good and the bad and we address it."
Are you going to admit to any big business gaffs over the past three years?
"After year one we sat down to plan the next year and when we looked at our monthly events (our music policy is always disco but we do monthly hip hop takeovers) 90% of things we did were working. Some events we've trialled have been a lot of fun, but didn’t go anywhere in the end.
"We put on pre-party shows before concerts at the Ethiad or Old Trafford Cricket Ground and some artists work much better for us than others, so we’ve learned from that."
How would you describe the Pen and Pencil’s food style?
"American English, with a big focus on brunch. We serve lots of delicious egg dishes but we also have great main dishes and burgers on at lunchtimes. Over the years we've changed our lunch menu but at times, that's affected our evening trade. It's about balance, now our mains are stronger than ever, we're a great place for people looking for somewhere to go after work."
Can you reveal any future plans?
"We’re going to stick to what we’re good at and improve with a team and a menu that’s even better than last year. We’re going to stick with our DJ’s, regular quiz nights and live music on Wednesdays because they’re all really popular. A lot of things have worked for us this year, but we won’t stay still, our music style works but we want to get even better."
Isn’t there always a really great atmosphere and vibe at Christmas time?
"We’re made for it. Everybody always enjoys their nights here with cocktails and great food for smaller or larger groups up. We have a private room that fits around seventy guests with a private bar and we can offer various food and drink packages."
Aren't you planning to open a second place?
"Yes. Exciting times. It has been a very log drawn out process for one reason or another. The builders are in there now and we expect it to be completed by early November opening."
Tell us more…
"It’s right in the heart of Stephenson square. We’ve got a 60-cover restaurant on the ground floor, called Bab and we’re going to specialise in kebabs; fresh flatbreads made on site with really nice meat. Downstairs in the basement is going to be ‘The Honey Trap Club’; a party bar. The focus is going to be on music and really good cocktails. We’re going to put a Berlin twist on it, so quite raw, quite natural and that will open until 3am, Friday and Saturdays."
Why should people keep coming back to Pen and Pencil?
"We’re great. We look after people and we’re consistent. We get a lot of repeat custom and we’re always evolving, by freshening up our menu and our guest DJ’s - and we’ve got a really great space here.
That's all thanks to the P&P team, past and present, as well as my family whose work and support has massively helped with the success of The Pen & Pencil."