Say hello to Kent, the man who turns wine into more wine!
As the owner, founder, managing director and general go-to guy for anything and everything Stony Street House, we thought it was about time to introduce Kent Barker! So read on to learn about Kent’s journey in wine and what he loves best about his new home in Frome.
One month on since opening Stony Street House, how are you feeling about it all?
Very excited! It has been, in no uncertain terms, a very steep learning curve (!) because IT WAS FULL, from the moment we opened, and it continues to be so.
Thats a nice problem to have?
Yeah, it’s a really good problem to have. But we’re learning fast about how our building works and how it all fits together. We’re lucky that our food is gorgeous and our wine offering is stunning.
Your concept was to create a space that revolved around wine, but also served fabulous food and coffee in a relaxed, stylish setting - do you feel the concept is coming to life and you’re staying true to your vision?
Yes I believe we are. We are trying very hard to make sure that we are delivering the best wine we can for the money in the glass. We retain our values by not listing any wine that we wouldn’t want to be drinking ourselves and by not putting food in front of anybody that we wouldn’t want put in front of us. They’re very simple criteria, but they’re very important….We’re very keen on food, so it’s got to be very good food [chortle] and we’re very keen on wine, so it’s got to be very good wine [chortle]! If we do that right and we make sure we serve the customer right then I think we have the essential ingredients for a successful business.
It’s a winning combination isn’t it… when you treat everybody as you’d like to be treated?
So, what has been the thing that most makes you smile when you think of Stony Street House?
Erm…what makes me smile the most…My wines on tap probably.
What’s so great about them?
They’re unique to the area…we’re serving amazing wine through them…they are the art of the possible and they are ecologically sound. It just goes to show, you can produce AMAZING wine from a different system and the public are willing to give it a go. And then some! People are buying it in large quantities because it’s REALLY good. That makes me smile.
Did you ever imagine as your younger self that you would own and run a place like Stony Street House?
Well, interestingly, when I was young, yes! I was the most confident person in the world and I felt, ultimately, that the world owed me a living, but as I got older, that became more and more unlikely until, I opened the Beckford Bottle shop with some partners. I then sold my part in that and started this project. But even at the beginning of this project I didn’t really feel that it would be possible..I felt at some point I would have to pull out, but actually it did come to fruition and here I am!
It shows that if you have a dream you should just go for it right? And that somehow it will come together if you put in enough.
Tell me about how you fell in love with wine…
My father always used to spend hours with sommeliers in restaurants and i used to be fascinated by their conversations. So I went to live in France and got involved in the wine area there, in Chinon in the Loire Valley…I drank and made wine exhaustively…and really fell in love with the romance of wine and all its possibilities…
What lead you to Frome?
I was looking for a site from central or outer London all the way to Bristol and everything in between and somebody mentioned that this site was coming on the market again due to its previous owner closing. I knew it of old and just thought it would be perfect for what we were planning so I immediately got in touch with the owners. They told me they’d received the keys an hour earlier and that I could put my name down along with everybody else who was interested and so I went for it!
What’s your favourite thing about Frome, if you had to pick one?!
I think the incredible mix of people. There’s an amazing, lovely mix of people. They’re very different and there’s a very can do attitude that Frome has, from the council right down to individuals. I really like that. Frome has embraced Stony Street House in no uncertain terms, with gusto, and that’s a lovely thing and I think it’s because of the viewpoint they have on life.
What has surprised you the most about the journey so far?
I think the misunderstanding I had of continuously chasing the finish line for the opening only to realise that it was the start line. And also how all the hard work from before the opening has laid in place the building blocks of the immense hard work that was to follow…basically just how hard it was going to be!
It sounds like how some people describe a marriage…the wedding is this big event, but it’s actually after the wedding that the hard work begins…it’s like a relationship right?…
Yeah it is. And you know, it started so ridiculously strongly. We were so busy so early, it was incredible.
With that in mind, what has been the hardest part of opening a new wine bar, shop & restaurant?
The staff I think - getting good staff that we can train up and that can give the level of service that we would expect.
What’s your favourite thing about SSH?
The people that work for me. I’m very lucky. I’ve got some incredible people. All quite different and quirky. We’ve got the DNA of a really good business with our people, and it’s all about people.
How do you see SSH growing?
Even though we are doing really good business I still think we haven’t reached anywhere near the potential of this building, so we need to become slicker, smarter, sharper and better in every way and then we will really push forward quite strongly in what we can do here. Not just financially, but in terms of service and quality and different events and such like. We really haven’t mined any of the events potential yet…
On that note, you recently had your first ever wine tasting, so what else have you got in store for everyone?
Yeah we have got nearly 20 tastings planned for this year…we have two a month, bar August and December, plus other events which will come along on an ad hoc basis. So we have huge amounts in our calendar, and that’s not even using the space on a quiet Monday morning for you know, pilates or yoga or anything like that. There’s a lot going on and many plans afoot!
If you could say one thing to the people of Frome about Stony Street House what would you say?
We’ve got incredible wine & incredible pizzas. We’ve got lovely staff and we will do everything in our power to make sure you have a wonderful time.
Talking about the food and the wine…what’s your favourite thing on the menu, food first of all?
I love the nduja pizza! I like spiciness, so I think it’s a really lovely pizza. Wine-wise I love the French Grenache wine we have on tap.
Speaking of wine on tap…that’s going down well, but what about the refill? Are people taking it home with them?
Yes they are. We’ve had people buying cases of them. I think people really like the concept - the ecological side of it especially. We’re doing a big giveaway of costalatas to encourage it a bit too!
Is there a phrase or quote or mantra that applies to your life right now? Do you have anything like that?
…[chortle] Not really, what I have is less of a mantra and more of an idea…we’ve got to strive to improve every day to be better at what we do and make sure that we’re always thinking about the customer…if we were going to have a mantra that would probably be it…to always think about the customer. If we lose sight of that…we’ll lose our customers.
What one piece of advice would you give to other independent business owners wanting to set up a wine bar/ shop/ restaurant?
I would tell them to go for it. Put the best foot forward. And once they’re fully committed financially or whatever and there’s no turning back then you can throw yourself in at 100% and you’ll be amazed at what you can do!
What a positive way to end the interview! We salute that sentiment and you Kent! Keep doing what you do!