Traditionally speaking, the east side of Leeds doesn’t have a sparkling reputation as a hub for discerning food and drink, but for one husband and wife duo, the area was ripe for a small-but-perfectly-formed bar at the heart of the community.
“The centre of the city is saturated and it just felt right to start up here,” says co-owner Matt. “I’ve been working in the industry for a long time and it’s always been a dream to own a bar for myself, but it took a bit of prompting from my wife, Stephanie.”
“It wasn’t until we drove past here a few times that we noticed this unit,” she adds. “We thought, ‘what about here?’ There’s lots of focus on the centre and other neighbourhoods like Chapel Allerton and Rounday, but who’s putting Crossgates on the map?”
Only six minutes from the city centre by train, with a growing supply of new homes being built and as well as a link road, the opportunity was staring them in the face. Matt is frank about the recent turnaround: “I’m from here originally and I don’t think a bar like this would have worked here, say, five years ago.” Despite not being a Leeds native, Steph shares the sentiment. “It’s just about trying to create something this area deserves. LS15 and east Leeds is really up-and-coming.”
"We want to play a role in educating people about Crossgates and giving locals something they deserve."
The couple are really happy with how the interior of the bar has developed over the past 12 months since the start of their journey and with support from award-winning blogger and interiors consultant Victoria Jackson of Apartment Number 4. We just wanted to get ourselves up and running at the start and then add things as we went along. A couple of the mirrors and a lot of the furniture in here was actually handed down from relatives who passed away,” says Matt. “The best compliment we get is that it’s like drinking in your living room."
Despite it being relatively early days, Matt and Steph already have plenty of ideas for the venue. “We’re starting to do a lot more events”, Steph tells us. “We recently launched a pub quiz, and over the summer we’re hosting a series of events called ‘The Assembly Summer Social’.” The inaugural edition is in July and will make use of the car park to feature outdoor seating, live music and street food. “We’re always switching it up. Later in the year we plan on doing a supper club where we work with outside caterers and street food vendors and give them the opportunity to serve food in a restaurant environment.”
A small venue in an unexpected part of the city meant that initial customers were strictly locals, but thankfully word travels fast in Leeds. Matt is encouraged by how quickly they’ve established a following. “We’ve found there have been a lot of people coming from certain areas to visit which I think is a massive compliment. Many of our repeat customers are local, which is our bread and butter, but our reach is quite far and wide.”
“We don’t try to be anything we’re not as customers will see straight through it."
With a background in Marketing & PR, Steph shone more light onto just how they were able to create a city-wide impression from a humble Crossgates HQ. “This has happened through word of mouth and quite a lot of press. I think with Matt’s background, as a director of a very popular city centre bar, he’s quite well known in the industry. For me, having worked with a number of consumer brands and retailers like Harvey Nichols, we have a strong joint network. We’ve opened up an almost forgotten part of Leeds and made people intrigued enough to come and visit.”
Despite being somewhat off the beaten track in terms of location, The Assembly is attracting folk from around the city. “People are hearing about our product range”, Stephanie tells us. “We work hard to source our food and drink suppliers and being a cafe, bar as well as a bottle shop, we attract a lot of different types of people. We’ve got our hipsters, our older people and our locals, so it’s quite a mixed clientele.”
With couple alone being the driving force behind the bar, they have been able to stamp their own USP on the overall aesthetic and approach: cosy, quirky and personable. Another advantage of having the final say is what kind of messaging they put out to their audience, as Matt tells us: “We don’t try to be anything we’re not as customers will see straight through it. I think passion is important too; customers will recognise if you’re not into it yourself.”
Being a veteran of the city’s bar scene, Matt is undeniably passionate about the tipple on offer. “I think the expectation customers have is that we do something quite different, be it the food that we offer or the drinks that we serve. Our beer selection is quite unique to the area and you probably won’t see any of these anywhere else in Crossgates. We also have an extensive gin range and we try to swap these around too.
As far as marketing goes, the two are fully up to speed with the most current platforms available and use them to their full extent. “Our following on Facebook and Instagram is increasing at a respectable pace and the level of engagement is better than we ever expected.We ran a paid campaign on both platforms for our launch and we’ve recently put some money behind a campaign to raise awareness of our upcoming Summer Social events.
That said, more old-fashioned methods still have their advantages, especially for Stephanie and her career background in marketing and PR: “I prefer not to put money behind social media. From previous experience reaching out to our target audience organically gives us a better return, especially for engagement posts. Our followers respond better to ‘real and organic’. It’s all about authenticity - audiences tend to disconnect from businesses that try to fake it That being said, paid for activity has worked for us on a few occasions - particularly when running awareness campaigns. Other than that, it’s a lot of PR alongside word of mouth and we don’t pay for any other advertising.”
“The best compliment we get is that it’s like drinking in your living room."
With his understanding of what makes a drinking establishment tick, Matt understands how powerful recommendations can be. “I think people do speak about upcoming events to their friends and family so if one person has seen it in here, they’ll tell other people. The advantage of being in Crossgates as a local area is that there’s familiarity; everyone knows everyone and that helps news travel fast. If you get positive press, it goes a long way.”
As far as the future goes, they have modest goals. Staying open, for one. Continuing to champion the local Crossgates neighbourhood is another. Steph is clear on what underpins the venture: “We want to play a role in educating people about the area and giving locals something they deserve. Once one business opens, more will follow and there are already a few more down the road.”
“It’s truly humbling when people give us such positive feedback”, says Matt. “It’s been a dream to own my own bar and support my family from regulars coming in, loving what they see and spreading the word. It seems that people are starting to take notice of the team behind The Assembly - and the wider Crossgates area as a whole.
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