Vaux Brewery reveal more about their plans to transform Roker’s seafront Victorian shelter into a craft beer hotspot…

Vaux Sunderland

Vaux Brewery is arguably one of Sunderland’s most iconic and enduring brands. Since the brewery’s first incarnation as ‘C. Vaux & Sons’ in 1837, all the way up to its closure in 1999, the brewery was a vital part of city life in Wearside. However, nowadays the Vaux brand may be most recognisable as the sponsor on some of Sunderland AFC’s most sought after vintage shirts from the 90’s. In a lot of ways it was the sponsorship of the city’s beloved football team that immortalised the Vaux brand in the fabric of Sunderland’s identity as a city. 

But, in 2019, the Vaux Brewery brand was brought back to life, and back to beer, by two businessmen with a passion for tasty draughts and the city of Sunderland. Since buying the Vaux name three years ago, locals lads Michael Thompson and Steve Smith have brought an array of new Vaux beers to market with the opening of their brewery in Roker and the city’s own taproom. 

Vaux Sunderland 1

It’s fair to say the duo has done an incredible job in giving the brand a fresh new identity whilst staying true to the roots that struck a chord with Wearsiders all those years ago. No longer is Vaux a distant memory or simply a name associated with vintage footy nostalgia. Now, it’s all about great beer… and even greater venues.

The Vaux boys’ latest venture is the renovation of a historic Victorian seafront shelter in Roker, as they look to transform it into a beachfront craft beer hotspot! Michael and Steve won’t be embarking on this venture alone though. They’ve recruited the help of TV’s own (and Washington’s own!) George Clarke. 

Vaux Sunderland George Clarke

We caught up with Michael and Steve over a cuppa on Roker seafront to find out more about this amazing space

“George got in touch with us around Christmas 2020 and told us that he loved what we were doing with the Vaux brand,” Michael explained. 

“He came and looked around the brewery, had a few beers and sat down with us for a chat. After we told him our plans he was really keen on getting involved formally.

“We said no at first, because we weren’t necessarily looking for investment at the time. But after some reflection we agreed it would be great to get him involved. 

“He’s not really involved in terms of the day to day, but he’s really useful in terms of networking and architectural ideas. 

“I think George just wants to see Sunderland do well essentially and he just loves the brand.”

Having sat vacant for years, Vaux will be the first business to call this building home in the 21st century. So, what made this 120 year old shelter the next on the Vaux team’s hit-list?

“It was the location more than anything else – it’s such an amazing spot,” Steven said. 

“It’s right next to the beach and it’s got a great view with large openings. There’s never been anything down on Roker Beach where they’ve really gone for the craft beer angle. 

 “There’s just a great beachfront vibe down there too. It’s a place that’s home to a healthy community of surfers and swimmers and we want to work with them if we can. 

“The idea is that we want to provide a 7-day venue with hot food, hot drinks and obviously a focus on craft beer and cold drinks. We don’t want it to have a pub vibe necessarily – you know, dark and dingy. We want it to be a welcoming space for everyone, families included.

“There’s huge openings for large windows as well, so literally anywhere you sit in the venue you’re going to enjoy an amazing view.

“Overall, the plan is simply quality food and drink in a beautiful, laidback venue.”

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The purchase of this venue for Vaux was in many ways a necessity, rather than just an expansion of the brand. 

Steve told us it’s a hard environment financially for breweries to be successful. Breweries can’t simply rely on selling direct to trade anymore. It’s about diversifying their income stream by opening venues such as this one. 

“There’s so many breweries now and so few pubs, they’re closing at a rapid rate,” he said.

“We sort of need a mixed income stream. We need our taproom, our online store, we need trade accounts and we really need a couple of other venues so that we can weather the storm.

“Obviously we’ve got massive inflation at the moment, we’ve got price rises galore. One week it’s energy prices, next week it’s cardboard, it’s just unreal.

“At the minute we’ve got a massive keg shortage. Generally speaking, most of the breweries in the North East are worried about kegs and where they’re going to get them from.

“But bear in mind, we’re on the small side at the moment and we’re struggling. So, if you’re a brewery five times as big as us, you’re really going to struggle to get all the kegs. Is it Brexit? Is it general shortages? I have no idea.”

Despite the difficulties breweries and other businesses across the region are facing at the moment, Sunderland is still a city on the rise. 

Post-pandemic Sunderland has bounced back in style, with the coast in particular attracting more new business and public attention than it has done in years.

“I was constantly amazed during lockdown of how many people were at the beach,” said Michael. 

“I think that appreciation of the beach has kind of stayed. Before lockdown, it was nowhere near as busy as it is now. People’s realisation that they actually enjoy the beach seems to have carried over from lockdown.”

Vaux Sunderland Seafront

It’s not only the coast that seems to be thriving, but all over Sunderland independent businesses have popped up and brought more people into the city in search of delicious scran or a good brew. 

And the Vaux Brewery team are proud to be a part of this new wave of forward thinking Wearside independents. 

“Sunderland’s on the rise right now, there’s loads of venues now opening up that are really passionate about good food and drink,” said Steven.

“You’ve got Cole Kitchen, Little Shop, Wildfire Pizza. That’s just a few, but there’s loads of places – too many to mention now. There’s a resurgence in Sunderland with that sort of thing.

“I think Sunderland’s real USP has to be the independent shops and venues. It shouldn’t try to compete with the likes of Newcastle. 

“The chains, the nationals, the internationals, they’re always going to look at Newcastle as a busier city. The only way we can compete is to differentiate, not  keep up. 

“For years there’s been this mentality that we’ve got to ‘keep up’ with Newcastle and it’s never going to happen really. 

“They’re geographically much better placed for everything. They’re on the East Coast mainline, two universities, main roads, there’s just much more momentum for them as a big city. 

“But, we can be a really interesting, independent venue-led city.”

Works are due to begin on the site towards the end of 2022, with Vaux’s new beachfront venue aiming to open in the second quarter of 2023 in time for the summer months.

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