Food & Drink

Published: July 22, 2022 | Updated: July 23, 2022

Cribby’s final hug for Urban Reef saying: “I’ve done my bit…now it’s time for someone else”

Mark Cribb, known to many by his nickname ‘Cribby’ and for signing off his posts with the words ‘big hugs’.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

One of Dorset’s most high-profile entrepreneurs has bid farewell to the seaside bar and restaurant business he founded saying: “I feel it’s time to create some headspace to see where life takes me next.”

Mark Cribb was speaking after the official completion of Urban Reef’s sale to independent brewer and pub operator, Shepherd Neame, for an undisclosed sum.

It’s Shepherd Neame’s first site in Bournemouth, and takes its total of pubs and hotels to 300, across Kent, London and the South East.

Mark, 47, pictured with his family – and a friend of his daughter – enjoying a last breakfast at Urban Reef, retains ownership of the Urban Beach hotel and Urban Garden bar and restaurant in Bournemouth as part of Urban Guild.

Located next to the beach on Boscombe Promenade, Urban Reef opened in 2009.

The two-storey venue comprises a bar, café, deli and restaurant with panoramic views of Bournemouth Bay, from the Isle of Wight to the Isle of Purbeck and beyond.

It employs around 60 people.

Urban Reef has stocked a selection of Shepherd Neame beers for the past two years.

Mark said: “I love Urban Reef – it is such a fantastic location, with such a wonderful community around it.

“The vibe, energy, passion and impact on the seafront with DJs, and salsa nights, and bands, and wonderful drinks, food and service still get me excited.

“I feel I’ve done my bit to get it to where it is, and now it is time for someone else.

“I was lucky enough to receive a lot of interest in this business, and I chose Shepherd Neame as they have been operating for over 300 years and remain family owned.

“I wanted to hand over to someone who would take a considered, long-term approach.

“Our values are aligned, and having worked with them for the past couple of years as a supplier, I have been impressed with their commitment and creativity during very turbulent Covid times.

“I’m confident they will be a wonderful custodian for the business.”

Mark said he was now looking forward to a simpler life.

He said: “Urban Reef is an all-consuming affair.

“It’s such an amazing and privileged space to own and operate.

“But it is a demanding restaurant to run.

“Constantly in flux, ramping up for the summer season, or ramping down for the winter season.

“It feels like a good time to take a bit of time out and simplify life for a while.

“Covid was a scary time, nearly losing everything from 17 years of work.

“I think for my mental sanity, and my family’s financial wellbeing, I need to diversify from having all of our eggs in the hospitality basket.

“I started this business at 30 years of age, and now getting closer to 50 I think maybe I need to be a more astute financial grown-up and spread the risk a little.

“My kids are 13 and 14 and used to Dad being pretty busy, particularly in the school holidays, mentally if not always physically, tied to the business.

“I’m excited to hang out with them whilst I still in any way retain ‘cool’, or at least mildly interesting, or even just the only one with the funds to take a few adventures.

“It won’t be long and they will be off on their life adventures.

“I’d like to create some positive memories with them before that is the case.”

Known to many by his nickname ‘Cribby’ and for signing off his posts with the words ‘big hugs’, Mark said he now planned to create space for something else.

He said: “I’m a huge believer in constantly evolving and learning and wondering where life will take you next.

“I can’t get complacent.

“I feel it’s time to create some headspace to see where life takes me next.

“We’re not here on planet earth for long.

“It feels like it’s a good idea to add a few more chapters to the book of life.

“I don’t know what those chapters are yet, but I think creating some mental space will help me decide.

“I’m not leaving hospitality.

“I still own Urban Beach and Urban Garden.

“In time I do also plan to sell Urban Beach, and then focus all of my energy on one venue again, back as I did when this incredible hospitality adventure started in 2005 with Urban Beach.

“I’m excited by the future opportunities allocating all of my creative energy ultimately to just ‘Urban Garden’ will create.

“I want to go deep, not wide, and explore how my evolving values, particularly around the sustainability and ethics of what we eat and drink and how we spend our time, impact the type of restaurant that I want to own.

“Watch this space.”

Jonathon Swaine, Shepherd Neame’s newly appointed Managing Director, Pubs, pictured, said: “This acquisition follows the strong company performance revealed in our latest trading update at the end of June.

“We are now actively looking for opportunities to grow and develop our high quality estate and are delighted to have acquired Urban Reef, a unique offering in a unique beachfront location.

“Our coastal pubs and hotels have seen particularly encouraging sales during the past year, and we are confident that with its fantastic reputation and loyal customer base, the addition of Urban Reef to our portfolio will allow us to accelerate that growth.”

The Faversham-based independent family brewer will continue Urban Reef’s current food and drinks offer, and has also committed to retaining all its team members.

Jonathon added: “Urban Reef has a wonderful team, many of whom have worked there for many years.

“We have been really impressed by their passion, expertise and commitment to fantastic customer service, which is something we really value.

“We are pleased to welcome them into the Shepherd Neame family.”