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Norwich. A city of mavericks and makers, creators and trail blazers. A big-hearted city beneath even bigger skies, and open air, open minds. In Norwich, everyone has a story to tell. And we’ll be sure to tell it. Every month, we’ll be sitting down with local writers, designers, makers, artists and influencers to discuss life in Norwich. This week we’re joined by founders of Sir Toby’s Beers, Dom and Toby.
Dom & Toby
Sir Toby’s Beers: A market stall like no other, and a must-visit for anyone with a passion for high-quality, local Norfolk ales, craft beers and wines. This week, we sat down with Dom and Toby, the brains behind the operation. Two self-proclaimed Norfolk boys with a mutual love for amazing beer. After studying at Notre Dame, Dom went on to work in hospitality, spending 10 years shaking and making cocktails in Leeds, Norwich and Guernsey. It was after this that he met Toby, the beer aficionado with experience at the Norfolk School of Wine and Naked Wines. And the rest, as they say, is history. Find out how this perfect partnership would lead to a thriving business in the heart of Norwich city centre.
How did you get into your chosen career/profession, and why did you decide to pursue this in Norwich?
Dom: I moved to Leeds to learn cocktails in 2009, there wasn’t anywhere in Norwich at the time making serious cocktails. Initially I wanted to be a hotel manager but fell in love with cocktails, so I decided to stick to the bar. Norwich is my home city, and whilst I’ve loved working away and going travelling I also love coming home, so I always knew I would set up a business here. Initially it was a cocktail business under the name ‘Norwich Cocktail Club’. After a few years I was pretty burnt out by trying to do too much. I approached Toby in 2017 about selling local ales around the county at markets and fairs.
Toby: I had my first foray into the booze industry whilst working a couple of long summers at various pubs on the Norfolk Broads. It was hot and busy, however you still got to know the locals, it was a good graft for a young person to experience. My first learning about all things beer and wine came at the Norfolk Wine School and at Naked Wines in Norwich, it was clear I wanted to learn and work in this industry. I chose Norwich as I realised how amazing the city was after returning from university elsewhere, it’s tough to get a feel for a place whilst in school!
What do you love most about Norwich and why?
Dom: I love how I can walk everywhere, it’s relaxed, creative, and expressive. We’re close to the coast and nature. Norwich and myself are such big supporters of independent businesses.
Toby: Call me cheesy – but the people! There’s an endearing element to everyone from Norfolk, however the folk we see down at the market are just the best. Often old before their time in what they enjoy in life – being friendly, quirky, and appreciating where their food/beer/household items come from. A friend once likened Norwich to Bristol with its independent, alternative citizens and I think I agree. I also think the city is the perfect balance between being surrounded by history with an abundance of modern places to eat, drink, shop, and visit.
Favourite place(s) to eat in Norwich?
Dom: Hard to ignore our neighbours really, Norwich Market. I get lunch from here every day. I’m not sure I can pick a favourite stall though, but on a cold day you can’t beat the stew from Cocina Mia. Blue Joanna is also a big favourite of mine, there is such a buzz about the place. For a few years I was running 42 King Street which has since closed down, but back then I thought it was the best place to eat in the city at that time.
Toby: Norwich Market! It’s a no-brainer for me to recommend our foodie neighbours on the market, especially as I’ve eaten at every stall more than once! It also helps that we see the smiley stall owners prepping fresh food every morning when we are just turning up, plus the variety is quite incredible. Shout out to Alan from Tastes of Shanghai for going the latest into the day and providing us with much needed sustenance when the bar is open late into the evening. The list is endless outside of the market, but a special shout-out to Salt on St John Maddermarket Street for our last pre-lockdown meal. It was delicious.
Favourite place(s) for a coffee/beverage?
Dom: It’s got to be Gonzo’s Tea Room, variety of quality drinks, great staff, awesome tunes and a great atmosphere.
Toby: Believe it or not, I like a coffee almost as much as I like a beer (almost) and we do not have to go far with The Little Red Roaster on the market and Stranger’s over the road. In fact, after some lockdown deliveries from FIKA and drooling over some of the natural wine and sharers at Kofra – you could call us spoilt for choice. Favourite place for a beverage! The list is endless… but pottering down the ‘Magdalene Beer Mile’ is a good place to start!
What are you most looking forward to doing in Norwich now lockdown is easing? What have you missed most?
Dom: I’m going to eat and drink out as much as I can afford, all independent places of course. We’re very fortunate that we have been able to sell a little bit of beer online and many people have helped keep us going, so I’ll be doing my best to support other businesses.
Toby: Without doubt living out of various pub gardens! Our friends who work and run the wonderful drinking establishments in the city were shut before they could blink, and we can’t help but feel guilty that we can still trade to some degree. This is also first on the list as it’ll have a positive effect on the local breweries who have been left behind without help during this time. I’ll also be on the look-out for Norfolk and Norwich Festival tickets for next year as that was sorely missed and eating out at various restaurants with my fiancé Becky.
Any lockdown tips/recommendations for our readers?
Dom: Try not to drink booze every day, find something that your palate enjoys as much as beer, mine’s peppermint tea. Use the time to learn and plan, set goals.
Toby: Don the gardening gloves! It’s a bit of a running joke at how terrible I can be with practical jobs (anything that doesn’t involve swilling a glass), however you can find a YouTube video on everything under the sun and become an ‘expert’ in no time. Our garden looks great, I’ve painted the downstairs bathroom and fixed my bike, what a great feeling of achievement!
And finally, what does ‘Norwich’ mean to you, or can you tell us your favourite memory of the city?
Dom: One of my favourite memories is from the Norwich City promotion party 2003/2004, sitting on the wall opposite City Hall for hours with my school mates, waiting for the players to come out and celebrate, a sea of people.
Toby: Norwich is all about the community of conscientious people, supporting local and independent businesses. My favourite memory will remain for a long time all the positive feedback and thanks we have received from delivering beer during lockdown. Pictures of cats in beer boxes and towers of cans, it’s been great to know our efforts have been appreciated and we are very aware of how lucky we are to have continued to trade albeit very differently.