Every working morning I sleepwalk off the Emerald number 5 bus and take a slow short-cut through the Edwardian-style Harris Arcade. On my way I pass what I can only describe as the most promising and welcoming chairs in Reading, outside the Grumpy Goat shop. Then this sharp thought comes into my blurred mind – instead of going to work I could sit here all morning drinking beer and eating cheese. After all, beer and cheese; what’s not to like? I was kindly given some time to pop-in for a chat to get a taste of what this business is all about and I was given some jolly good info too.
[Matthew] When did the shop open and was it a slow start?
[Anne-Marie Beatty] December 2013 and it got off to an absolute flyer. We opened just before Christmas and we had queues out the door.
Who owns and runs the GG?
Me and my partner Charlie Beatty.
Why are you called the Grumpy Goat?
Just a silly idea really. A vision of grumpy old men sat at the bar with their pint of ale, and we took the goat bit from goat’s cheese and it stuck, so we bought the very memorable domain name.
Why cheese and beer?
Why not? Not a lot of people are doing it and wine and cheese has been traditional for years. We think you should discover new things and cheese and beer go so well together – we are opening up people’s palates to the fact that it’s a winning combination. There are no other cheese shops in Reading and no one has the range of artisan beers that we have from around the world. There was a niche in the market and four years later we are still here and doing well.
Is it a matter of pride to sell the local stuff?
There are something like forty breweries around us and it’s growing all the time with a real solid base of local brew from people like Siren Craft, Loddon, West Berks and Rebellion, so we stock all these with pride along with beer from anywhere in the world you care to mention. There are breweries popping up everywhere and it’s a global thing. There was a bloke in this morning was saying a load have opened up in Israel. We do stock a lot of traditional Belgian varieties as well.
What are your biggest sellers?
Cheese-wise people love the Barkham Blue; it’s local, it’s won awards, it’s delicious and people love it. We sold a hundred kilos of it at Christmas. Beer-wise, I would say the whole range of Siren Craft and West Berks beer; people love Good Old Boy and folk are trying to explore and try new things all the time too. We love stocking traditional things and we want to keep things moving, so world beers and cheeses are also selling really well.
What is your most obscure product?
Over Christmas we did have a pine flavoured milk-shake beer by a Norwegian brewery called Lervig; I have never tried anything quite like it.
What is the future for your business?
We are bringing in a customer loyalty service with a little indie card for regulars; we just need to work out the details. We will continue to host tasting events and we have our craft theory festival at South Street again this year on 13 and 14 April. It was very successful last year, so we are really keen to keep this going as an annual event. There is also something really exciting and new in the offing but I can’t talk about it yet.
Does it ever feel like too much hard work and you are the wrong side of the bar?
Not really; I was a teacher and Charlie was a project manager for a development company so we were used to working hard and doing long hours and we love our business.
Do you like Reading?
There is nothing wrong with Reading and if you want Reading to be a better place, you should get out there and make things happen.
Does your Harris Arcade location make a difference?
It’s amazing the people who still don’t know it exists and on a weekly basis new customers say “ooooh I’ve never been down here before”. You can buy bespoke hats, vintage clothes, collectibles, cigars, records, get a decent haircut, a tattoo and get some nice tailoring done here. It’s an unusual and attractive arcade with a lot of life in it.
Could the Council do more for independent businesses in Reading?
There needs to be more communication and we were a bit peeved to be charged for our advertising ‘A’ boards. A bit more forward planning in encouraging a variety of independents and maybe a permanent base for them would be great, but there is better vision than there was a few years ago.
What are your favourite cheeses?
Charlie and I were on the judging panel at the world cheese awards in London last year and my choice was Baron Bigod, which is a beautiful, bloomy, creamy brie-style cheese from Suffolk. As for the beer I do love a good IPA around the 6-7% mark. I like the whole New England style of beer rather than make one actual choice.
You must have learnt enough to write a book on the subject.
If I was to sit and write my CV now it would never end, even though I have a teaching degree I’ve learnt so much I can’t even quantify it. Every day Charlie and I are doing everything to improve and finesse things; even tonight we will be working on a poster for craft theory. It can be an incredible buzz and source of energy running your own business.
Do you think Reading could sustain some micro-pubs?
Do you enjoy it all?
We are massively passionate and proud of what we are doing. We love seeking out new beers and going to festival. We are off to Copenhagen in a couple of months just to drink beer. We have a happy, lovely bunch of people who work here because ultimately, beer and cheese make people happy! There is a big swell of support for independents in Reading and we love to share customers and talk with each other; those connections are really lovely, useful and mutual. People look at the posters in our window and we recommend places like the Shed, the Tasting House or the tobacconists next door and we let people know about the good things that are happening in Reading. When we first opened, there were some who were incredulous that two women could be running a business and a beer shop and said so. Some did pop in and say they were surprised to see us still here!
Was it a matter of pride to prove them wrong?
It was said fairly regularly at first, and was demeaning; you can take us or leave us – we are who we are. We have a large customer base that has grown with us and that’s what really keeps us motivated.
I had a strong flashback as I walked away along the charming corridor of the Harris Arcade. My mates and I walked into a new pizza bar-cum-café in Duke Street around 30 years ago. A band was playing; it may have been Valley of the Dolls? Anyhoo, there were only a few people in, and the lead singer handed me the microphone and I sang some gibberish. The exotic beer labels, the strange smells and the sheer energy in the atmosphere of the Grumpy Goat had reminded me of the amazing first Purple Turtle! As the poet said, “bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!”
Matthew Farrall, the author of this article, died on 20 April 2018.
We are grateful to his family for allowing us to continue to display his work online.