Tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m Louise Oliver, 48. My career in retail started when I used to help my dad out in his picture framing shop as a child. I got a proper taste for retail when I started my first business in London – a market stall in Spitalfields – as a means to support myself through drama school. I eventually left my acting ambitions behind because I began to enjoy the business so much. I built it up until I felt ready to take on a shop there. It wasn’t a wine shop – it was a film memorabilia shop selling posters, film props, costumes, and juke-boxes. It was an eclectic business and incorporated all my interests at the time. I loved it.
How did you get into the drinks business?
When I decided to move to Brighton, I wanted to develop my love of cooking and food and wine pairing so I went to college at Plumpton. I knew from the very beginning of my four year course there that I wanted to create an eclectic store incorporating not just wine but beers and spirits too.
I’m fascinated by spirits – they really seem to embody the country they are from. They elicit such pride from the people who make and drink them, perhaps even more so than wine. The problem with spirits is that they cost a lot of money to stock and so it has taken the whole seven years we’ve been trading at our Seven Dials store to build up our selection and we now have over 400 spirits and liqueurs in stock. I genuinely love every single one of them. I’m excited by them. The traditions, the making process, the crazy rules and regulations and the mystery and drama.
When did you open?
We opened Seven Cellars in Seven Dials in 2015 and we were welcomed into the community so well. I truly believe it’s the best part of Brighton. There is a wonderful, vibrant community there. The people are so lovely and we have so much fun. It is a privilege to be a part of it.
We opened our second store at Brighton Railway Station in October last year. Of course, the work from home order we were given by the government late 2021 presented an enormous challenge to us. Commuting is slowly beginning to return now and there seem to be more visitors to Brighton. The response from the public has been brilliant. We are an independent business which is quite unique in a place like a train station – usually occupied by the larger well-known national companies. Customers always comment on it and say how much they like it.
What makes Seven Cellars stand out from other off-licences?
I think the main thing that makes Seven Cellars stand out from other off-licences is the depth and breadth of our ranges. We have around 800 wines, 400 spirits, 400 different craft beers a good range of non-alcoholic beers, spirits and wines and a fairly extensive range of Sake with around 30-40 different options at any one time. We strive to give as much choice as we can and our shelves are absolutely groaning under the weight of the range.
We give all our staff training. I met my colleague Sean at Plumpton College and Christie is currently doing her Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) diploma training in London. I keep up my training too; Sean and I have just completed our WSET spirits exam which we really enjoyed. We have fun together as a team. We often socialise together, most recently at Burnt Orange and Plateau in Brighton.
How do you select your range of wines and spirits?
We taste regularly, every Thursday morning. We have a staff meeting and taste any new potential wines, spirits and beers together too. It’s very much a collaborative decision. It’s best that way and it helps us to all know what we have coming in. It helps us to help the customer make an informed purchase.
Are Sussex wines and spirits popular?
Local wines and spirits are really popular. We sell local gins, local rums, and of course we sell and are extremely proud of our Sussex wines. I’ve always wanted Seven Cellars to be a hub for showcasing the best Sussex has to offer and so I am particularly thrilled to see the launch of the new PDO to protect Sussex wines. We really believe in collective quality control measures which also protect the integrity of a regions products. As long as you don’t have protection in place you are wide open to less scrupulous people attempting to enter the market and start a race to the bottom in pursuit of profit. On the other hand having a set of rules for everybody to stick to can sometimes place limits on a producers ability to innovate but I’m sure if the PDO is well run they will find the right balance.
Seven Cellars stores are located at 104 Dyke Road and Brighton Station • www.sevencellars.co.uk