Skip to main content

James and Daniel Pilley, MBII

Nine Jars, Haverhill

Opposite a historic church in Haverhill, near Cambridge, sits the dynamic Nine Jars, a family business that brings together coffee, cocktails and now takeaways. BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to the father-son duo Daniel and James Pilley about embracing opportunity in lockdown.

Five years ago the site that Nine Jars has now flourished upon housed a derelict pub. “When I say derelict, we’re talking every single window smashed, the copper throughout the building had been stolen, electrics hanging from the ceiling”, Daniel (the head of the family and the business) introduces Nine Jars’ evolution from the ground up.

“We started developing it in 2016, opening our bar in the October, and spending the next year renovating the top floor into a hotel. We have eight boutique rooms and a cocktail lounge, café/bar and now we’ve moved into a new way of working due to the current situation”.

Speaking in May, nine weeks into lockdown, the pair talk proudly, reflecting on quick reaction times that led to a positive start to the season with Mother’s Day afternoon tea deliveries.

“It’s usually one of the biggest days of the year for us, we already had some bookings coming in and we thought ‘we can’t miss this completely!’ We spoke to our supplier to see what we could create and ended up spending the night packing up 175 afternoon teas.”

James recalls a few instances where children had ordered treats for their parents as a surprise. “We had a couple of customers who ordered a box for themselves and one for their mum or parents, and then logged onto Zoom and had their afternoon tea together”.

Instead of dwelling on the immense weather over every Bank Holiday this year (sure to have equalled success if we weren’t in lockdown), they pressed on, launching their Friday Night Dinner takeaways just before Easter.

“James came up with the concept of cooking up fresh meals which would be pre-ordered and delivered during the day on a Friday, customers could then pop them in the oven for 20 minutes and have their takeaway”.

It meant the Nine Jars team could protect the brand, dealing with high demand but not having to race against the clock to deliver hot food. “We want to keep morale up in our own little way, so if it’s someone’s birthday or special occasion, we add in a couple of beers or a bottle of prosecco”, James says, knowing that customers are thankful now more than ever for acts of kindness.

Noticing that the town already boasted successful chains offering the usual cuisine, the Pilleys realised the growing market shares in street food and the power of the pre-made cocktail.

“We worked with a company called Preoday to create our own app so that people can order online, collect and have food delivered, that will also develop into a pay at table system so that when we do reopen, we don’t have to have menus, we can have everything contactless. It’s quite an exciting part of what we’re doing. We fought hard for the Government to allow businesses like ours to offer takeaways.”

With Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary at the epicentre of the UK’s handling of the pandemic, being their local MP (Hancock officially opened Nine Jars back in 2016), the duo put forward their ideas for grants needed to support hospitality businesses after they relaunch.

“We don’t want to just help ourselves, but the whole industry. We need this industry to thrive when we come out of the other side. We need good restaurants, bars, pubs around us to entice people to a positive space to live, work and spend time in”, says Daniel.

With loyal gestures from customers shown in weekly takeaways ordered from the same families each week, James hopes that the town will remember their service. “I just hope that we don’t just all go back to the rat race we used to live in. We want to get across that we are a little family in the same situation as everyone else, trying to run our business”.

And the river runs deep, with James’ cousin George working in the kitchen, Daniel’s brother, Robin, co-owning the business and the wider family being roped in: “We’re at max family capacity!”

With all hands on deck, Daniel and James have the time to reflect and decide what to kick to the curb upon reopening. “Everything was so fast paced pre-lockdown, taking a step back has been really useful. We’ve realised that doing what we enjoy means we’ll be really good at it.”

The pair are in agreement of their new mottos: “stress less” and “together we are stronger”. The positive Twitter hashtags we all need right now.

Nine Jars’ tips for renewing your offerings:

·         Evaluate your new target market: “Think about the opportunities surrounding you, what would suit your customer base at this time”

·         Think about your own spin: “Get out there, look at the internet and read what other people are doing! Our great ideas aren’t our great ideas, we’ve looked at what others are doing and put our Nine Jars spin on things”

·         Collaborate with suppliers: “If you haven’t heard from your suppliers, contact them and ask them how they can help you”

·         Adapt as lockdown eases: “we have our slushy machines on, we’re serving takeaway cocktails, takeaway beer where people are allowed to meet up more and sit in the park with one another”

·         Maximise your daytime trading: “Our coffee shop has made its way to the core of our business, ‘coffee by day, cocktails by night’, we’re offering those two things in equal measures and almost have two different businesses during the day and night”

·         The new normal awaits: “So many people look at the past and say “if only that hadn’t have happened”. It did happen, but it has opened up new opportunities for you.”

Other member stories

The Puffing Billy & The Blue Ball Inn
Nine Jars, Haverhill
The House Group