Saturday 12th March brings the long-awaiting opening for Blue Collar Corner on Hosier Street. Owner Glen Dinning kindly took a few minutes to update us on the preparations…
Q) It was March 2021 when your agreement to run the market and create a new venue at Hosier Street was announced, and you kindly did a Q&A back then. You’ve now made it to the eve of opening for trade, for those who’ve not heard about Blue Collar Corner, what’s the venue all about and where is it located?
It’s the culmination of 6 years of us as a business running street food festivals and markets. I used to travel into London from Reading and saw rundown places like Brixton, Peckham & Shoreditch become some of the coolest places to be because of the amazing bars and street food scene they had going on. Blue Collar was created because I wanted to bring that back home and, while the events have got bigger and the markets have got better, in addition to those we always wanted to create a permanent site that was open all year round.
Located on Hosier Street, near the back of Broad Street Mall, this is a shipping container site over two floors, with a rooftop terrace, bar, covered area and four permanent kitchens. It’ll transition from a family friendly venue in the day to DJ sets and a night market in the evening. I genuinely think the food we have in here is up there with the best street food in the country, while if people are just coming in for a drink, we have ten beer lines, loads of cocktails, wines, spirits and more.
Q) A year down the line, I think it’s fair to say it’s taken slightly longer than you’d hoped to get here, although I’m very sure well worth the wait! Tell us a bit about the planning and construction phase.
The build from hell! When we chatted for the first article we had just signed the lease and were desperate to start well and get the site built as quickly as possible. The council are our landlords and chose our proposal in the tender process. We submitted our planning application in April 2021, with a view to doing initial building works whilst we waited the statutory eight weeks for the determination process.
Whilst this was going on, we had chosen a builder to do the job, well known in the street food scene and a talented guy who had pitched really well and done good work in the past. In reality, he was one of the most disorganised people you would ever meet, had taken on way too much work and would quickly be out of his depth. He tried to juggle all the jobs he had taken on and ended up achieving none of them, after a good first couple of weeks onsite, he disappeared and never came back. The answer on the phone every day was “I’ll be back onsite next week” but after an 18 week period where he/his team had only been onsite for eight days, I finally lost my patience and dropped him from the job. A couple of weeks later I got a call out the blue from a street food trader – they had experienced the same thing and knew of other organisations currently waiting for work to be finished by him, with some of them taking legal action.
Meanwhile, the planning application continued to drag. We work with various departments within the council and the council employees I have come across have almost all been hard-working people passionate about improving Reading. However, in this instance the frustration was unbearable, we had a derelict yard just sat there, we were wanting to risk everything to build the site and help the process of improving an unloved part of our town but were just getting nothing back. During this time, I’d be at the market or walking down Broad Street and people would ask me for an update on the site. I’d give some sort of flaky answer but the reality was I didn’t know if we’d even get permission to open.
The process ended up taking eight months, we lost traders originally set to be in the site, I was having to go into more and more debt to pay the existing loan payments I had taken out to fund the site that we couldn’t even properly start building or open. There was one particular issue regarding transport that threatened a complete rejection of our application – if this had happened I wouldn’t have been able to continue, it would have been the end of Blue Collar. That time was incredibly brutal, with constant stress and some really dark moments. Like I say, I don’t blame individuals, council staff are just doing their jobs and councillors were always supportive, but, after surviving Covid, the process taking so long nearly killed us as a business.
We got our planning consent in mid December 2021 and it was all systems go. New builders were in and it was all about trying to get the site open as soon as possible – Sian Hammersley, Rich Kevill, Tim Harding, Paul Broom, Ridgeway Structures, Carter’s Electricians, Luke Parsons, Watson & Dalton Bespoke Spaces and Sonning Flowers all helped get everything back on track – they were heroes!
Q) You’ve had loads of positive reaction on social media over recent weeks as people have spotted the progress coming along. You must be pleased to have such strong local support?
Absolutely – we’ve always been a business that very much wears its heart on its sleeve and proud to be in Reading. This is a town we love and the support has been incredible – people have been so kind with their comments and continually come out to keep us and our food traders going despite all the uncertainty of the last couple of years. I think we’re seeing a shift to supporting independent business, which is brilliant – I honestly think as a town we can have as strong an independent scene as Bristol or Oxford in the next few years.
Q) Tell us more about the opening and the offering that will be in place from the outset?
In terms of food, our kitchens are:
- Gurt Wings: Serving fried chicken, they have won loads of awards for their wings and sauces.
- The Taco Tree: A new concept from the people behind Vegivores in Caversham, serving tacos, nachos & sides.
- YouBao: Asian steamed sweet and savoury bao buns, rice dishes & noodles.
- Sarv’s Slice: Neopolitan pizza and Italian sides
Whilst popping up for the first month, 12th March – 12th April, we’ll have Urban Cheesecake, who serve incredible hand crafted cheesecakes.
On the bar, we’ve entered into a partnership with Reading based brewery Double-Barrelled and will be pouring their beer from 8 of our taps, alongside additional lines from draught cider and a rotating guest beer.
DJ’s will be playing Friday & Saturday evenings and they really add to the atmosphere – I’m really proud of the space and when all the lights are on it’s a really great place to have a drink or some food.
Q) The covered area looks great. I guess that keeps you adaptable for the changing seasons?
Yes, we have a large covered area at the moment but t there are plans to ‘Winterify’ the site in September/October, with more covered areas, the greenery becoming more Autumnal and additional heaters brought in.
Q) What’s the plan for the wider market? With Blue Collar Corner in place, presumably the extra footfall might provide further opportunities there?
When we first came in we appreciated that this is a market and area of town that has been starved of any real love or investment for the past ten/twenty years, and that changing that doesn’t happen overnight. The plan is to try and generate a level of footfall to the area with Blue Collar Corner in place that then allows us to start adding some really interesting market traders, adding a butchery, bakery, vinyl store, gifts – if we can increase the footfall through Blue Collar Corner it will give them a chance to succeed. It won’t happen overnight, but the long term plan is to completely revitalise the area, with the kitchens in the site buying their fruit, veg & bread from the market traders outside, for there to be opportunities for young people to set up in street food, or have a place to sell their own clothing range or gifts.
Q) What’s the latest on the Minster Quarter as a whole?
It certainly seems to be developing and the regeneration of Broad Street Mall (with new places like Spinners & Reading Biscuit Factory) alongside CUP, the Hexagon & Pepe Sale are fantastic for the area. There are wider plans for Minster Quarter, the council have been supportive of our plans and seen the level of investment we have put in to try and improve the area so hopefully we can be incorporated into future developments that happen around us.
Q) Just remind us finally, when’s the public opening, and what days and times are you open?
We open this Saturday (12th March) from then on are open every week and all year round at:
Thursday: 11am – 11pm
Friday: 11am – 11pm
Saturday: 11am – 11pm
Sunday: 11am – 8pm
Thanks to Glen and huge congratulations for bringing this project to fruition. I can’t wait to get down there and try it out!Follow @readingonthames