When lockdown hit back in March 2020, Dominic Richards and his wife, Marta Malina, faced a dilemma.
Over 15 years they had steadily built Bap into one of the independent success stories of the Altrincham high street, with the kind of loyal customer base that some of the franchise coffee shops could only dream of.
But when Boris Johnson declared on March 20th 2020 that all cafes – along with restaurants and pubs – must close their doors and sell only via a takeaway service, Dominic and Marta quickly realised that their precious business, one of four Baps in the North West, was no longer viable.
“Our takings dropped by literally 80%,” said Dominic. “We’d invested a lot of time and money in this business, but now we really didn’t know how it was going to pan out and whether we were going to end up with anything at the end of it.
“Hence the need for diversification.”
Diversification arrived, perhaps unexpectedly, in the form of Vokini, a range of vodka cocktails, and Ginkini gin cocktails.
Both Dominic and Marta had informally experimented with making their own drinks before, but this time they took things more seriously with extensive training from an award-winning York-based distiller.
Converting a number of the rooms above Bap at 127 George Street into a small distillery and production line – they do everything including the bottling and labelling – the new drinks range arrived just in time for Christmas.
“We were selling drinks and hampers from a little market stall outside. We got really good feedback and people were coming back with their friends. That was indication for us that people liked the product,” said Marta.
The couple have since developed the Pig & Wolf brand – after their nicknames for each other – and have now added (and trademarked) Alty Gin. Both the range of vodka and gin cocktails come in quite an array of flavours, including Rhubarb and Ginger, Banoffee Bomb and Passion Fruit Punch.
“Our grapefruit and cranberry vodka is so, so good,” said Dominic. “People are often surprised by how strong it is, but because it’s very pure alcohol it doesn’t burn.”
Bap is now fully licensed to serve alcohol on the premises, and on a summer’s evening, the tables on George Street are just as likely to be full of customers enjoying a tipple as a cuppa.
“When the weather is nice and people are sitting outside, it’s been really popular,” Dominic added. “After four o’clock here you have quite a bit of space outside. There isn’t a riot going on, there aren’t kids messing about, it’s quiet and grown-up.”
As for the future, Dominic and Marta are intent on retaining the small-batch process that they believe makes their vodka and gin cocktails such a triumph.
“We’re not just looking for commercial success, we’re looking at creating something that people go ‘that’s good’,” said Dominic.
“I say to people, try our gin, and if you don’t like it I will give you your money back. I’ve been trained exceptionally well, and use only the highest quality ingredients, and we do them in small batches. That’s the key to retaining the quality.”
Bap, 127 George St, Altrincham WA14 1RN. For more information about Vokini, Ginkini and Pig & Wolf drinks, visit vokinidrinks.com