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Meet the Woman Behind Aire Bar: Louise Howard

Nearly 13 years ago, Louise and her husband Chris opened up the incredible riverside venue Aire Bar! We caught up with her to find out the secret to their success!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how Aire Bar started out?

I am originally from Southend-on-Sea in Essex. I studied Hospitality & Retail Licensing at Manchester University, part of my course involved a work placement. I returned to Essex to carry out my work placement and worked at The Teriss Bar in Brentwood. It was a very busy bar attracting a host of soap stars, celebrities and footballers which was quite different from my part-time bar job as a student in Manchester. The bar was run by Chris, who several years later would become my husband and business partner. After four years working in the south Chris was keen to move back ‘up north’, specifically to Leeds. He was always telling me about this “amazing bar by the river” he had come across in the late 90s while running a pub in Ripon, and how if he ever had the chance he would buy it. The bar at the time was called ’Sparrows Wharf’ and was owned by pub company Mitchell’s & Butler’s who owned over 1700 pubs across the country, including the brands ‘All Bar One’, ‘Vintage Inns’, ‘Harvester’ and ‘Toby Carvery’.

Amazingly, in 2003 Mitchell’s & Butler’s put the bar, now known as ‘Aire Bar’ up for sale. After close to twelve months of protracted negotiations with the company we finally exchanged contracts on November 17th 2004 and Aire Bar became an independent bar owned by our company N8 Leisure.

When you first set up Aire Bar, what were your hopes for the bar?

We knew the bar was in a great location and architecturally, it was a stunning warehouse conversion, but it had been neglected by a succession of temporary managers and had gone down the route of cheap drinks and cheap food to pull in the customers. We aimed to widen the drinks range, introduce a quality wine list and a huge range of premium spirits. In addition we installed Sky Sports and numerous plasma screens, and upgraded all the furniture, fixtures and fittings. We basically wanted to make the bar somewhere we ourselves would like to drink, so to a certain extent we were a little self-indulgent; but it seems to have worked!

In your opinion, what makes Aire Bar stand out? What makes you different to the average bar?

Of course when the sun comes out, people instantly think ‘Aire Bar’ because of our amazing south facing riverside terrace, which no doubt has been responsible for multiple cases of sunburn and local office workers not making it back to the office after lunchtime drinks. I think Aire Bar stands out in the Leeds bar scene because of our consistency, after thirteen years we still have the same management team, we haven’t changed the name, had any major relaunch or changed our overall ethos. People have confidence in Aire Bar because of our longevity, we have customers who moved abroad to work, who come back after a few years and are amazed to have staff they know remember their names and what they drink.

A huge amount of our business is repeat custom, with companies like First Direct, Asda and the BBC holding their Christmas parties with us for several consecutive years. That’s not to say we don’t adapt to trends within the industry, we have a great range of craft ale and a selection of gins which now number 40+, but we adapt without changing too much what we, and our customers, love about Aire Bar.

One of the things everyone seems to mention about Aire Bar is how friendly the atmosphere is. What’s the secret to that?

I think the ‘Aire Bar atmosphere’ is derived from how much we love the space, and the actual building, it’s very personal and we see ourselves as custodians of the building as well as running a business from it. Our customers on the whole are like-minded with ourselves and our team of staff, which makes the working day much more sociable and less like work. I think from a customer point of view, they can see that we actually want to be there. We care about what we are selling, and we genuinely want people to leave feeling that have had a good level of service and an enjoyable visit. Inevitably even when we are not working Chris and I will end up in Aire Bar because it’s still the sort of bar we still want to drink in, even after thirteen years. It’s a safe, friendly, welcoming environment for all types of people.

What are Aire Bar’s plans for the future?

Our plans for the future include working with The Yorkshire Burgaire Company to grow their business outside of Aire Bar, by incorporating them into our outside bar concept and install them in other venues. We are also looking forward to the redevelopment of our part of the riverside and increasing the size of our outside drinking area to accommodate more customers, ensuring Aire Bar remains the best riverside bar in the city. But more importantly, we’re looking forward to celebrating the return of Leeds United to the premiership, because we’re all Leeds aren’t we?

You can meet Louise at Aire Bar at 32 The Calls, LS2 7EW and you can find out more about Aire Bar by visiting their website: www.aire.bar

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