At last, seven weeks after being informed that my bid had been successful, a date had been set for the final inspection of the arches. This pivotal event would either herald the signing of the lease, or send me back to the drawing board. The assessment would be carried out by Stuart, my brewing consultant, and overseen by Sandy from Network Rail. It would be my role to frown, look important and ask questions. Everything would hinge on this hour, starting at 3pm the following Wednesday.
Meantime, my research continued in earnest and I started to work my way through the hundred pubs located nearest to the brewery. I’d love to tell you that this was done on foot, testing their wares on the way, but no, this was purely a desk job. The first bar on the list, and therefore the closest one to the Orbit Brewery, was the Beehive. I thus anointed it my ‘local’. It seemed like a good choice, looked cosy inside and had some decent reviews. I reckoned it would have a real buzz about it too. Would this prove to be my first customer perchance?
Even better, there was history to this hostelry. It stands near to what was the Montpelier Tea Gardens, which started life as an 18th century market garden. It lasted for about a hundred years during which time it became a bit of a pleasure garden, featuring a maze, a cold bath and a cricket ground. The Montpelier Cricket Club played their first match on the Beehive Ground in 1796 against the legendary MCC. Soon after, a match was arranged between eleven men with one arm and eleven with one leg. The event organisers were clearly going out on a limb with that idea. To find out the result, have a read of this article under ‘Before the Beehive’: http://www.thebeehivebar.co.uk
After the Montpelier Club disbanded, a new team took over the ground and this proved to be the genesis of Surrey County Cricket Club. To facilitate their growing status they later moved to their present home, just up the road, at the Oval Cricket Ground. This place is of course famous for hosting some of the greatest ever, international cricket matches. One of the very first Test Matches between England and Australia took place there, which Australia won, leading the Sporting Times to publish a mocking obituary about the “ashes of English cricket”, thereby giving birth to the ‘Ashes’ series that we know today. The Oval went on to host the first ever England v Scotland football game (1-1) and the inaugural FA Cup final (Wanderers 1 Engineers 0). The Wanderers got to the final because the Scottish Club, Queen’s Park, could not afford to attend the semi-final replay, after drawing the first game 0-0!
So, yep, the Beehive will do nicely as my local. In other research news, I discovered that my namesake brewery in San Diego might not be much of a competitor after all. Apparently they crowd funded a target fund of just $2,500, to go towards a project that appeared to be worth about $500,000. Also, they launched three different crowd-funding efforts at the same time. Why would you do that? Then I noticed that their Facebook and Twitter accounts fell silent by late October – just when the funding target was met. Comments are now appearing on the crowd-funding site asking what on earth has happened to Orbit Brewing. A response was finally posted asking for patience. Was this a genuine delay or a complete scam? We shall see…
This week the big day finally arrived and I made my way down to Arches 225 and 228, just under a mile south of the famous Elephant & Castle. I was early, so I strolled around ‘my territory’ and had a wee peep inside the Beehive bar nearby. Sandy soon turned up, opened up the arch and swiftly shot off to another meeting, leaving me to pace around the cavernous space underneath the four railway tracks above. No Stuart though.
I started to take in more details of my future workplace and took note of the pile of dead leaves out front that would need sweeping up, the mound of rubbish out back and the rickety fence held up by string. No worries, but also no Stuart. I tried to figure out the address logic of the street and looked for clues as to the number of our ‘door’. I stood silently inside the premises and listened to the deep rumble of the trains thundering past overhead. And still, no Stuart.
It was now just fifteen minutes until Sandy was due back to lock up and ask me for a decision. Just as this was looking like a really bad day at the office, Stuart arrived, parked and strode inside. “I can see one problem that you’re going to have, right away.” His words chilled me and I hoped that this wouldn’t be a deal breaker, a fundamental flaw. “You need two doors on your toilet.” Now, I’d be the first to admit that an exclusion zone around my loo would be common sense, but it turned out that food hygiene laws actually require this second degree of separation from the area where food (aka beer) will be prepared. No problem, we can build an office around the loo.
Everything else seemed fine, as long as Network Rail agreed to our plans for re-laying the floor, digging a drainage gully and fitting a chimney. We started to plan how the actual brewery would be configured, where the cold store would go, how we’d receive deliveries and load our van. It was all beginning to come together – in my mind at least. Agreement was made to sign the lease, on site, on Monday 3rd February. I set up some consulting dates with Stuart, all of which will be taking place in pubs across London. I love this industry. I hired an accountant, opened my bank account and the next day met with Alex, my brand consultant. Progress.
Having been in the dressing room getting ready for this race for what felt like an age, I was now out on the track and eyeing the starting line. I was ready to take my marks, get set on my blocks and go. Poised at the line, I take an imaginary glance to my left to catch a glimpse of the starter’s finger twitching on the trigger of the gun. The journey is just about to begin.