Words by Rosie Cattrell
A local tale of trust, collaboration and an unbreakable bond that has led to the success of multiple Cornish businesses.
Finding your passion and living it as part of your reality would be regarded by many as the ultimate dream; to create your own career, alongside a product that you’re proud of, must come with a fabulous feeling of unrivalled freedom and satisfaction. But setting up a business in Cornwall is no easy feat, and success is becoming more and more difficult to grasp in the south west. However, I seem to have stumbled on a unique recipe for victory in business, and the two main ingredients come in the form of Cornish brothers, Tom and Sam Hanson.
Having grown up in the St Ives area, Tom and Sam were exposed to the world of business from the very beginning, with their mum owning the town-centre off-license and their dad running a local fish and chip shop. Having two successful entrepreneurs for parents, the duo would benefit from crucial experience from an early age, as Sam reflects: “I used to help dad in the kitchen of the chip shop, cutting up fish and potatoes, and Tom would help mum by packing up cardboard in the cellar of the off-license – it was a great introduction to the world of work!” While Sam exercised practical skills and trained as a chef in college, a skill which would come in handy further down the line, Tom went on to graduate from Bath Spa University with a first-class degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. “The plan was to move to London to pursue a career in writing,” muses Tom, “but ultimately the lure of Cornwall, and the opportunity to run a business with my brother, proved to be too strong.”
Reminiscing on a life shaped by coast and country, Tom looks back on a fond Cornish childhood: “I can’t think of a better place to grow up than Cornwall. Our dad lived in an old farmhouse in the countryside so we spent a lot of our childhood playing outdoors, in the fields and on the nearby moors. We loved being active and spending time in nature – it was an inspirational place to grow up. As a child, you have so many opportunities for adventure and exploration. As an adult, you start to appreciate the natural beauty and the more relaxed pace of life. There are undoubtedly challenges with running a business in Cornwall, particularly when it comes to staffing and balancing the seasonal nature of trade, but there are also unique opportunities and advantages that you wouldn’t get anywhere else in the country.” “Cornwall is in our blood,” agrees Sam. “On our mum’s side, our family have lived here for centuries and have operated a business here since 1894. Our great, great grandfather was a fisherman who drowned at sea, so his wife opened a shop in her living room to help pay the rent. That shop remains in the family to the present day and ultimately laid the foundations for all of our current business activities.”
While Tom was finishing his degree, Sam got to work running the family off-license, Johns Wines, and noticed that there was a demand for more luxury items and locally-made alcohol, so he began to make some changes: “In 2014 we had a big refit and re-modelled the shop to focus on craft spirits, fine wines and local beers – it proved to be a great success and led to rapid growth over the coming few years.” Drawn to Sam’s development of the business, Tom made his way home: “As I was finishing my degree and weighing up what to do with my life, I saw the great things that Sam was doing with the off-license and decided to come home to help him out. It was only supposed to be a temporary thing, but as the business continued to grow I decided to stay put. Sam had made some great improvements to the business already, and once I returned from university we really started to get some traction. Sales improved year on year and naturally we started looking to expand operations.”
In 2016, a unique opportunity arose to acquire a bar in the centre of St Ives, and together with their dad, Tom and Sam took the plunge and signed the lease. “Initially, we planned to open solely as a bar – essentially offering a drink-in selection of our range at Johns Wines,” Sam explains, “but market research led us to the conclusion that we needed to offer food. After much debate, we settled on fried chicken and craft beer.” Beer and Bird opened its doors in April 2017 and became Cornwall’s first gourmet fried chicken restaurant and craft beer bar.
Sam and Tom had no intention of stopping there, and with the arrival of the pandemic they saw their chance to expand their horizons even further, as Tom kindly elaborates: “Crusty Juggler Rum was born during the first lockdown. We’d been wanting to launch our own spirit for many years and due to both businesses being closed we finally had the time. We approached a design agency based in Falmouth – Kingdom & Sparrow – and started work on the design for a black spiced rum that would reflect the rugged Cornish coast and the smuggling traditions of the county. It took about 18 months from start to finish, but in the summer of 2021, we finally launched Crusty Juggler.”
Alongside Crusty Juggler, Tom began a side project to create a range of nutritional supplements to support digestive health, something he’s struggled with himself for many years. In a bid to find a way to find a way to improve these symptoms without the need for medication, Tom went on to create the luxury wellness brand, Trivas (meaning ‘to thrive’ in old Swedish) with the help of the nutritionists and designers at a specialist manufacturing partner near London.
Having experienced such success, the dynamic brothers are only too aware of the responsibility that comes along with it. “Ultimately, we’d like to contribute to the growing Cornish economy and support the development of young people looking to progress,” ventures Sam. “We feel there is a definite need for year-round jobs in the county and if our enterprises can help achieve this, we would be delighted.”
“I think the purpose of any good business is to move things forward,” adds Tom. “There’s a collection of young, exciting businesses coming up in Cornwall at the moment; businesses that have the potential to change the county for the better. If we can be a part of that movement and help initiate a positive change in our community, we will have achieved our goal.”
While Sam and Tom are at the top of their game today, the road hasn’t always been an easy one to travel, as Tom knows only too well: “If there is one thing I have learnt about business, it’s that there are always problems along the way. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that problems are welcome because you simply cannot progress without them. Opening Beer and Bird was perhaps the biggest challenge we have ever faced, as it was something we had never done before. There were so many logistical challenges to overcome – from costing, to staffing, to menu creation – and the only real strategy we had was trial and error. It was a steep learning curve, but with perseverance and adaptability, we got there in the end!” Sam adds: “Consistently our biggest challenge has been staffing. In Cornwall (and particularly in St Ives) there is a real shortage of quality hospitality staff and the pandemic has only made things worse. The only thing you can do is to pay well and create a decent work environment that makes people feel valued and included. But even so, there have been times over the past year when we’ve had to close due to a lack of staff.”
So, what does the future look like for these dymanic brothers and their myriad of flourishing businesses? “In regards to Johns Wines and Beer and Bird,” Tom says, “we’d like to expand to the point where we have several outlets in Cornwall, and maybe some further afield. When it comes to Crusty Juggler, we want to become the iconic spiced rum of Cornwall. It’s an ambitious target, but one we feel we can achieve given the great response we’ve had so far. Trivas is still very much in its infancy but I’d love to grow it into a nationally recognised brand and hopefully make a real difference to people suffering with digestive health issues in the UK today.” With a freight train of momentum behind them, Sam gives us an insight into their future plans: “Over the next five years, our aim is to refine our existing businesses and grow organically. This means focusing on Cornwall initially and building our businesses to a point that they can be replicated further afield. Although Cornwall will always be our home, the prospect of expanding to serve the wider UK market is a very exciting thought indeed!”
With entrepreneurial blood running through their veins, and an ever-evolving vision for the future, the Hanson brothers’ success is of no real surprise, but I do wonder exactly what it is that works so well for the pair, on which Tom cares to venture an answer: “Fortunately, we have a very good relationship. We were close growing up and this has continued into adulthood. This is not to say that we don’t have differences of opinion, but generally speaking we come to a decision that we’re both happy with.”
“We’re both quite different in terms of personality,” adds Sam, “but I actually think this makes us stronger from a business perspective. Tom is a bit more cautious and pragmatic, whereas I’m more inclined to take risks. If you had one of us without the other, I don’t think we’d be anywhere near as successful as we are.” The future certainly looks like a bright one for Sam and Tom, who have proved an inspiration for Cornish business owners and entrepreneurs. Harnessing each other’s strengths has proven to be a hugely effective technique, and now I simply couldn’t imagine one without the other.