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WEST Beer boss Petra Wetzel explains her stance on Wetherspoons in Scotsman's Scran podcast

In early April, WEST Brewery made the news when it issued a statement on social media saying that it would no longer be supplying Wetherspoons pubs.

Published: April 28, 2020
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Owner of WEST Beer and brewery, Petra Wetzel discusses the Wetherspoons tweet, and how the coronavirus pandemic and UK lockdown is affecting her businesses.

Petra chatting to me for an episode of our podcast, Scran, which you can listen to in full below.

The Wetherspoons tweet

In early April this year, WEST Brewery responded to a tweet asking if they'd still be supplying Wetherspoons, after owner Tim Martin's actions and comments to staff during the start of the coronavirus crisis.

The West Brewery team replied saying that they would rather ‘sweep the streets’ than do business with Wetherspoons chairman Tim Martin. This reply went viral and lead to news and TV coverage, something that Petra finds amusing.

"It's funny because that should never have made the news," she explains. "It was a very private decision that we made when he (Tim Martin) basically told all his staff while going find a job in Tesco. The man is just...I have no words actually, he lives on a different planet for me clearly.

"One of our followers, a guy with maybe less than 200 followers, contacted us on Twitter asking asking an honest question - if we would consider that (no longer supplying Wetherspoons) and I said we've already decided on that. I was busy packing boxes of beer for delivery and didn't think for a minute that one little answer to a man's tweet would end up in STV news."

This decision was met with support, and is one that Petra stands by. "It was quite interesting because we absolutely 100 per cent stand by that statement, because that's how we really felt about it - but we would have gotten that message out another way.

"We got huge support over that decision though, which shows you how strongly people feel about certain individuals who have all the money and privilege in the world and treat people like that?!

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"It really rattled my cage because I always call myself a capitalist socialist. I think you need to make money in order to dish it out, but I certainly don't need a super yacht or a Ferrari.

"Then there are some people who wouldn't even pay staff - he's obviously backtrack now because the furlough scheme was implemented - but I just thought it was all wrong."

How WEST beer has been affected

After the prime minister's announcement on the 16 March advising people not to go to pubs and restaurant, Petra said she never slept a wink that night for thinking of how to make sure customers who did decide to visit West on the Green and the Beer Hall could be kept safe.

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"We stopped cash, we printed menus so that basically everybody would get a fresh menu every time they came into the Beer Hall, we took 50 per cent of the tables out so there was space. we installed a hand wash basin in the entrance lobby and we put lots of hand sanitiser everywhere", Petra explains. "We basically just did everything as advised. Then obviously on the 20th of March, they shut us down and all of our customers down.

"We are a 95 per cent craft beer business. We have two companies, one called Noah that runs the hospitality side of the business, and Heidi, which runs the brewing side of the business. So Heidi's turnover went from 100 per cent to 5 per cent, and Noah's turnover went from 100 per cent to zero percent. We were hit twice."

But that buzz of publicity from the Wetherspoons tweet led to a huge number of orders from WEST's online shop. "The day of the tweet, we sold in a day what we sold the week before Christmas. So that was wonderful and we're really grateful," Petra says.

"We've had messages from people buying our beer from all over the UK, which is really heartening. It's really nice."

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The future

With no concrete decisions being made yet on when pubs can open, Petra thinks that when they can, there will be a split in society. "Well, I think there's two groups - there's the groups who are, the first day that the pubs are opening, they're going to the pub and nothing is going to stop them.

"But then there's the groups of vulnerable people who will still need to self-isolate and the others in their household who will need to do the same to protect that person - none of them will want to or be able to go near a bar or restaurant.

"So there'll be a huge split in society whereby there will always be people who are going to the pub, and there's others who will be slightly more cautious, and they will continue to drink nice beers at home for special occasions. Maybe then inviting very small groups of people who they know to their houses. Because of this, I think it'll take at least 18 months, if not longer, to normalise.

"There might also be a consolidation of the brewing industry, as we can't have a race to the bottom - you can't sell beer for less than you're making it for once you've paid your rent and your staff and all of that.

"It's tough but it is important to keep your sense of humour and all of this and keep spirits up. One good hearty laugh a day is really important at the moment. So just keep your chin up and keep washing your hands."

To buy WEST beer online, please visit their website.

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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