Meet Horsforth Brewery's owner who quit his job and went full-time one week before lockdown

After years working in finance, Mark Costello decided he wanted to run his own business. Horsforth Brewery became his full-time job the week before lockdown. Mark Casci reports.

Taking your first steps into the world of running your own business is always nerve-racking.

But when your first week ends in a Government-imposed shutdown of massive swathes of the economy, the challenge takes on an existential dimension.

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This was the exact situation Mark Costello found himself in late March.

Mark Costello outside the taproomMark Costello outside the taproom
Mark Costello outside the taproom

He founded Horsforth Brewery five years ago, initially as a hobby and then a part-time business.

Named after the Leeds suburb in which it is based, the brewery has achieved some notable success and is stocked in dozens of pubs and off-licences in the area.

Mr Costello, a treasury dealer with Yorkshire Building Society for 12-and-a-half-years, took the decision to go full-time with the brewery at the start of this year.

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He had grown the business from initially producing beer in his garage to his own premises and taproom near to Horsforth railway station and decided that the time was right to take the plunge.

Making his debut at Ste Margaret's ChurchMaking his debut at Ste Margaret's Church
Making his debut at Ste Margaret's Church

A few days later the entire UK pub and restaurant trade was shuttered.

“I had a week,” he laughs.

“That week was really nice.

“When it first happened it was head spinning. I had just gone full-time with the brewery and my customers legally are not allowed to open.”

Showcasing his waresShowcasing his wares
Showcasing his wares

Running his own business was something Mr Costello had always aspired to.

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A qualified accountant with a decent job in finance, he had a decent lifestyle. But the thirst for entrepreneurialism was too great.

“I tried cooking and baking,” he says.

“It was OK. One day he tried home brew and thought ‘oh, I am quite good at this’.

“The very first brew was from a kit. That was just too easy, it wasn’t proper brewing. The second one I did do a proper brew.

“I practised a great deal. I picked up a lot of ideas.

“I thought Horsforth could do with a brewery. I thought it could sustain one and I thought it would be quite a nice addition to the town.

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“So I thought, I’ll do it. I bought all the kit I needed and did not look back.”

The brewery made its debut at Horsforth Beer festival in 2016. Incredibly, despite being brewed in the town that bears its name and selling out in six hours, Mr Costello came in second place.

But within a few months he was brewing and selling the beer into the retail market. His first port of call was the town’s micro pub, The Hop Shack. Other retail outlets followed. In April of 2018 he began reducing his hours with Yorkshire Building Society to focus on his business.

He eventually moved out of the garage and into his own premises, taking the keys in December 2018.

Progress has been intentionally gradual.

“I never really set myself a target,” he said.

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“It was always about the next step. My initial aim was just to get to Horsforth Beer Festival. I realised, actually, this is pretty good beer. I will see what I can do with it.

“I then thought if I do a brew every other week I can get into the Hop Shack. Then I got in there and thought I should try somewhere else. I just enjoyed the moment and kept pushing myself.”

The Covid-19 shutdown clearly could not have come at a worse time for Mr Costello and his business.

He had just invested in a load of new brewing equipment which would have hugely increased his capacity. However, with no tradespeople able to assist with the installation it is currently unused.

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He, like so many other businesses of all sizes, is having to adapt to the present circumstances.

Describing the moments after the lockdown was imposed, he says: “I would not say it was panic. One of the great things about being a small business is that you are in control.

“The word I was using before everyone started using it was that I need to pivot the business. I will just focus on retail.

“We can do our own bottling, we are set up to do that ourselves. We have labelling machines.

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“I had a plan of where I was going and I have two members of staff who are with me part time.”

The business is now focusing on the off-licences which are still open and operating using social distancing measures. He has also begun home deliveries for customers, even partnering with a local bakery, Slow Rise, to take beer and bagels direct to people’s homes.

Mr Costello has huge amounts of praise for the city’s independent scene. While understandably concerned about what the prolonged shutdown will mean, he is hopeful that the sector can bounce back and that firms are able to survive.

“When it all started to kick off I went around to see people who were customers,” he said.

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“It was one of the first things I did. The grants that the Government gave made a big difference. For a lot of people that has helped but I also think that this is going to go on for a long time.

“The independent food and drink sector we have got in Leeds is brilliant. I hope that the vast majority of them are going to be okay.”

The logo for the beer itself uses the signs that motorists pass as they enter Horsforth.

“I am not very imaginative when it comes to names,” he laughs.

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“That’s why it is called Horsforth Brewery, but is a very decent name. It sells the first pint. If someone goes into a pub in Horsforth and sees Horsforth Pale on there, they will give it a try.

“The beer then sells itself after that. People love the fact that there is a brewery around the corner and that it is so small.

“I think people actually appreciate what I am doing. I am putting quite a lot of hard work in.

“That is what I like in a business myself.”

Mr Costello’s pride in the enterprise is palpable and he relishes every comment he receives. His new life as an entrepreneur is one he is now fully invested in.

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“It’s all well and good having the theory behind you,” he said.

“I have the accountancy qualifications, I have a degree and I have years in finance but have not run a business before.

“I just want to have some fun with it.”

One of the things Mr Costello references frequently is the spirit between independent food and drink firms in the city.

“It is a really good community,” he says. “Everyone I do business with I enjoy doing business with. It is quite close knit and that is true with all Leeds independent food and drink places.

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“There are quite a few small breweries around now and, typically, we do not really see each other as competition. We are all about making the pie bigger rather than increasing our own slice.”

He adds that the experimentation side of brewing and the constant search for new flavours is a huge source of gratification.

“When it comes off it feels brilliant,” he says.