Our spotlight on local independent businesses continues as we swoop into the award-winning Starling Independent Beer & Coffee House for a chat with director Simon Midgley.
Starling Independent Beer & Coffee House has been flying high after winning two awards within the space of a few weeks; the first being Harrogate and Ripon CAMRA’s Pub of the Year, quickly followed by Harrogate Hospitality and Tourism Awards (HTTA) Newcomer of the Year.
Simon, who has been a member of CAMRA since he was 18, sees the real ale campaign group’s award as recognition of Starling’s growing reputation as a food and drinks place with a fierce determination to be different but still caring that the beers are well-kept and the service from his team is friendly and informed.
And the Newcomer of the Year award was indeed a team effort with the decision based on customer nominations, a judges’ panel and mystery visits. Simon says that award is a clear acknowledgment of Starling’s passion for food and drink and confirmation that its offering is a viable proposition for customers.
Simon is quick to praise the people around him. “I’m proud of the team. We’re bringing people on a journey and we’re on people’s radar, it (the award) helps build awareness of who and what we are,” he says.
Nestled in Oxford Street, Starling has a natural and roomy feel thanks to its predominantly wood and stone interior and the ever-present and striking spread-winged Starling motif.
As to the range of drinks. There are 10 craft keg taps and six cask hand pulls, making choosing a challenge. On cask there’s Black Sheep, Hawkshead’s Windermere Pale and a beer from Roosters brewery in Knaresborough alongside three rotating guest beers, which tend to be from around the North of England.
The town’s very own Harrogate Brew Co. is featured with Pinewoods Pale and Cold Bath Gold brews.
For those with a palate for European beers, Czech and German lagers Urquell and Warsteiner are sold along with 30 gins and more than 20 whiskies as well as ciders and wine. And for the tea and coffee offering, Starling has teamed up with the Brew Tea Company in Manchester and the Dark Woods Roastery in Marsden near Huddersfield.
And let’s not forget the food. Simon enthuses about the Neapolitan-style pizzas made from scratch using Italian flour and an Italian tomato variety for the sauce. Brunch is served from the start of the day; anything from a fry-up to avocado on toast.
However, in keeping with its determination to develop an atmosphere and experience that’s a bit different, Starling is not just a place for drinks and eats as it serves both as a community meeting place and intimate performance space, regularly hosting stand-up comedy nights, gigs and other music-themed events such as the Vinyl Session talks. There’s spaces for business meetings and private functions.
“We’re not a traditional boozer by any means, we like to have a community focus.” says Simon. Accordingly, Starling has no one type of customer, it could be business people, families, individuals or couples all enjoying the atmosphere. “We get different customers at different times,” he states, summing it up neatly.
Simon is Harrogate born and bred and has been in the food and drinks industry for 20 years including 12 years with Knaresborough-based Market Town Taverns. That means he understands his customers and suppliers and knows full well that Harrogate is a “lovely town to be in” although the competition is tough.
He has his own independent retailer to namecheck and that is Barber & Mack, the “Gentlemen’s Hairdressing” business on Montpellier Mews. Aside from thoroughly approving of the cut they give his “hipster” beard, he also likes their attitude to customers.
Inevitably, the question comes up about how the beer and coffee house and the associated company, of which Simon is a director, called Murmuration, got their names.
The latter is the poetic collective noun for starlings and, for Simon, symbolises the sense of togetherness he is clearly building with his customers and his team. Go to the website to see a clip of the famous starling formations as thousands turn and swoop as one in the evening light.
As for the former, Simon explains that he’s a lover of nature and starlings form communities so he thought it entirely appropriate for the beer and coffee house to take the name and build its own nest in the community.