Mixing it up a bit with Niche Hospitality

The Business meets owners of Newport-based Niche Hospitality, Lewis Lewis and Seng Koh, who spotted the potential to invest in Newport long before the Friars Walk effect…

Lewis Lewis, who has extensive experience in the hospitality industry at home and abroad, is a native of Newport and is passionate about the city and its potential.
Lewis said: “Both Seng and myself love Newport and at the time, long before Friars Walk had any impact on the city, we saw a gap in the market for dining and drinking concepts which we felt would bring additional footfall to the city centre rather than those customers having to travel further afield to get their needs catered for.
“You could almost say we saw a ‘niche’ in the market and with that Niche Hospitality was born.
“We started looking for sites to re-develop. We were keen to create unique signature dining and drinking venues. As a company we believe in reinvesting in existing sites and trying to work within premises which lie empty.
The Business: What kind of a welcome have you had?
LL&SK: Newport has been amazing to us. Not only have we built a loyal following but we have made friends and discovered suppliers along the way. We want to re-invest in our community and use local suppliers where possible.

Scallop dish, Mojo The FoodBar

TB: You have four businesses – Mojo the FoodBar, The Riverside Sports Bar and Grill, Pro-Vision Hospitality and Sixteen – have you plans to open more?
LL&SK: Over the next year we plan to focus on our existing businesses to ensure they continue to succeed and develop. We are passionate about our people. We currently employ 32 people across our four businesses. We employ the best and aim for the highest quality, ensuring we continue to attract new customers and retain our loyal customers. We are, of course, open to new opportunities and if other exciting developments present themselves we will certainly not close any doors. We are also looking by the end of 2019 to have our very first restaurant and cocktail bar in Cardiff.
TB: Why did you choose to base your businesses in Newport city centre?
LL&SK: With Newport being a multi-cultural city with its own unique atmosphere, where traditional industries sit alongside new electronics and financial service sectors, we felt it would be a city which would embrace change. We felt it would welcome us and support anyone who wanted to add value by creating employment and new opportunities while bringing people to the city and supporting increased tourism.

Riverside Sports Bar and Kitchen, Clarence Place, Newport

TB: How have you found the process of opening businesses here?
LL&SK: Newport has been, I guess, like anywhere else really – fairly easy to start-up a new business in. Sometimes you are presented with challenges and could do with more support, but now two years in we have a fairly good relationship with everyone we do business with.

TB: How much have you invested in your businesses?
LL&SK: Easily well over £600,000 through equipment purchase, redevelopment, fixtures and fittings in all our premises.
TB: What has recruitment been like?
LL&SK: Recruitment is everyone’s worst nightmare. Sometimes it can be easy and there can be an abundance of the ‘right people’ around. Other times it can prove more challenging. Seasonality, for example, means lots of companies take on casual team members to help service their business. We have generally found great team members with the right skills from the local area and those studying in the university or colleges.
TB: So, how has it been doing businesses in Newport?
LL&SK: Newport, like anywhere, has challenges. We need to be a chameleon as a business and adapt accordingly to face those challenges – common financial struggles, changes in the local market and seasonality – to make sure we remain engaged. We try to focus on being involved in the local community by supporting charities, running free events, creating festivals, sharing through work experience and, ultimately, listening. Listening is one of the biggest things any business can do. We all think we know what we are doing and how it should be done. However, without feedback and listening to customers’ real needs and wants we cannot be the best. That has certainly helped us.

Mojo The FoodBar, Clarence Place, Newport

TB: What do you think about Newport in general?
LL&SK: The best thing about Newport is Newport. We underrate the great city we have. It is steeped in history. It’s a great location with amazing transport links. Being sandwiched between Cardiff and Bristol, we can benefit from a wide customer base and also benefit from increased supplier opportunities. Newport offers some great opportunities as it tries very hard to make a comeback. The city is open for business and embraces all weird and wonderful opportunities. The downside, sometimes, is the lack of support from larger companies which could encourage staff to shop local and use smaller restaurants, bars and shops.

Newport Council needs to step up. Don’t just put on Newport Food Festival once a year but provide regular street markets encouraging local independents to have the opportunity to trade and have a shop window, for example. It needs to re-focus on the city centre and our market area to increase footfall and to stop making everything about Friars Walk. While Friars Walk is an amazing attraction and makes Newport more of a destination, it still ultimately detracts people from walking up the high street. While I support both, we need to see greater planning of city centre events, promotions, concerts, free shows and live events.

TB: Have you noticed a change in the business climate of the city?
LL&SK: It has definitely improved and is on the up. More people are spending locally again and there is greater footfall in general. However, we can all do more to encourage this and support the local independent economy.

TB: What do you think needs to be done to encourage more businesses to start up in Newport
LL&SK: It would be great to see some regular workshops with local start-up businesses hosting each event sharing best practices, hardships and providing inspiration for others.
We are all quick to feel threatened by other similar businesses but if we all spoke more, we would realise how different we all are and how we could actually all work together in some way which would only boost the local economy.
I think the council should also spread the word in greater way of what funding, business start-up support and assistance is available as often there are things you don’t know about which could help especially in the early days.