By Sam Tallon
If you had asked Southport businessman Steven Lannagan, what would be the biggest problem he’d have to face upon receiving the keys to his new business in January last year, a global pandemic would not have been top of his list.
There were whispers of COVID when he first spoke to the landlord about potentially taking over the unit. No-one could have guessed what would happen next.
Situated at the bottom of the street that Mr Lannagan lives on, he is hoping his new café and bar, KOPAR, will become the new social hub in Hesketh Bank, Lancashire, when it eventually opens.
Mr Lannagan is already the owner of two successful businesses on Lord Street in Southport – the Bottle Room bar and the Copper & Ivy café – and felt it was the right thing to do to bring the quality of his other businesses to Hesketh Bank, just a few miles away.
“There’s not one bar in the village,” he says. The area’s iconic pub, The Becconsall, closed in 2009 to be replaced by a new housing estate.
“I wanted to create a place where people could go and meet and just have a good time”.
The café at the local Booths supermarket in Hesketh Bank is the only other opportunity to sit in and eat in the village.
Mr Lannagan also seems to have stumbled upon this new business opportunity by chance.
“I probably wouldn’t have chosen that site or even known about it if I lived in Southport,” he says.
The unit was previously occupied by Brentley’s hair and beauty salon on Station Road. When Mr Lannagan heard of its availability, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I would have hated the fact that someone else had got it”.
This type of opportunity led him to owning his second business, Copper & Ivy, a thriving café bar on Southport’s main shopping street, Lord Street, which he co-owns alongside his fiancée, Samantha Lee.
When the previous owners retired, Steve made the decision to take the unit, aware that there was already a license in place and thinking someone would have only made it into a café anyway.
Walking past a café that he could have owned and it being successful thinking, “Damn, I could have had that” wasn’t an option for Steve.
It is also next door to The Bottle Room, the first business that Steve set up.
However, in the current situation we’re in, we have seen businesses crumble through the financial pressures of the pandemic and restrictions on cafes and bars serving alcohol has greatly affected custom.
Despite this, Steve seems unfazed.
He said: “I think COVID has helped this new venture, in the fact that people are desperate to get out.”
He could be right. There are around 7,000 people who live in the fast-growing Hesketh Bank and 300 new houses are currently being built there too at the Douglas Gardens development on the Alty’s brickworks site, just a short stroll away from KOPAR.
Perhaps as normality starts to resume in 2021, this could be a reason to venture out when the bar eventually opens.
“I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be Easter – I don’t know, we’ll wait and see.”
Steve initially believed KOPAR would open in June 2020, however, he has since changed his plans.
“It would have been open a long time ago but there was no point in rushing it with no money. There’s been no income, in two businesses.”
Despite Government helping to support his Southport businesses, Steven Lannagan hasn’t received any financial support for KOPAR.
Mr Lannagan himself was furloughed, yet an administrative error on their end saw his fiancée not receive any furlough support, despite being the manager of Copper & Ivy.
“Just make sure admin is in place or basically you could be screwed,” Mr Lannagan says, offering a stark warning for other business owners.
“Look through your lease and try to get a break clause. Otherwise you could be paying rent on a unit that’s not even open.”
Remaining closed during the pandemic has allowed Mr Lannagan to deal with the changing restrictions on bars and cafés.
Originally KOPAR was going to be just a bar.
“I’ve made the kitchen a little bit bigger, given that we’re going to be serving substantial food.”
Steve has learned from the mistakes of one of his other businesses The Bottle Room has remained closed since November because it was unable to serve substantial meals, a Government requirement of pubs and bars reopening when the tier system was in place.
Remaining closed throughout both lockdowns has also allowed work to be done on KOPAR behind the scenes. Due to the lockdown, Mr Lannagan used self-employed shopfitters who he knew personally to avoid having to wait for companies to start up again.
“When they came out to KOPAR, it was socially distanced in the unit and I gave them the keys and said ‘I want that done, that done and that done’ and they were happy to come out on their own.”
However, thanks to the national lockdown amid rising COVID cases and variants, Mr Lannagan’s plans for an Easter opening could be in jeopardy.
Despite this, he is still building up his clientele for KOPAR on social media.
A friend of his, who works at Stand Up For Southport, told him that social media was the way forward and it’s advice he has definitely taken on board.
As a local business owner, Mr Lannagan is keen to make sure when customers return to high streets, they support local, independent businesses.
“I think it’s a better overall experience rather than going to a high street chain,” he said.
“You feel more satisfied in a local business I think.”